Troy Christian boys basketball advances to D-IV Elite Eight with win over Jackson Center


KETTERING — The Troy Christian boys basketball team understood the challenge in front of them Tuesday night in a D-IV regional semifinal against Jackson Center.

And the challenge that lies ahead Friday night.

Looking for its first trip to the Final Four since 2013, Troy Christian moved one step closer with a 57-47 win over the Tigers Tuesday night.

The Eagles, 25-2, will face 26-1 Russia — looking for its second straight trip to the Final Four— in the regional title game at 7 p.m. Friday night.

“You know, this group has only lost six games the last two years,” Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki said. “And three of them have been to Russia.”

A year ago, Troy Christian lost to Russia big during the regular season — then played right with the Raiders for three quarters in the regional semifinals. Early this year, they lost to the Raiders again in the regular season.

“We know it is going to be a really big challenge,” Troy Christian senior guard Parker Penrod said. “But, we will be ready for it.”

The first challenge was getting past a Jackson Center team that gave Troy Christian fits in the Eagles 42-35 win over the Tigers.

“We only got 25 shots off in that game,” Zawadzki said. “We felt it was very important to have the lead at the end of the first quarter. We didn’t want to be down four or five points and have to play the game at their tempo.”

The Eagles coach got exactly what he wanted.

Penrod and Christian Brusman hit 3-pointers on Troy Christian’s first two possessions and the Eagles only deficit in the game would be 2-0 and 4-3 in the early going.

“It always feels good when you hit shots early,” Penrod, who is the straw that stirs the drink for the Eagles, said.

Penrod and Brusman would combine for 40 points in the game — as the Eagles would miss just 12 shots all night.

“It felt great,” Brusman said about his game. “This is like a dream — to be in the regional finals. I can’t wait.”

While Penrod would score eight points as Troy Christian opened a 17-11 lead after one quarter — he got a lot of help from his teammates as well.

Alex Free would score four points in the opening quarter, Ethan Grise would hit a three in the second quarter and Frank Rupnik would get a basket to give Troy Christian a 12-point lead midway through the second quarter.

“Parker (Penrod) is our all-state guy,” Zawadzki said. “But, Christian Brusman hit some big shots for us. Frank (Rupnik) had a tough assignment tonight (Reed Platfoot), but Alex Free had some big baskets for us before he picked up a couple fouls.”

Troy Christian would lead 30-23 at halftime and increase it to 43-31 after three quarters as Penrod hit a jumper at the buzzer as he fell to the floor.

But, a Platfoot basket and a 3-pointer by Lucas Heitkamp brought the Tigers within 43-36 with 6:05 to play.

But, Brusman would immediately.

“Christian (Brusman) made the right read along the baseline and was able to get into the guy’s shoulder,” Zawadzki said.

Brusman would score and complete the 3-point play to quickly take the lead back to 10.

“I had the baseline,” Brusman said. “I kind of had it to throw it up there at the last second and fortunately it went in and I got the foul call.”

Jackson Center would get within six twice more, but Penrod and Brusman would combine to make six straight free throws to take the lead back to double digits and finish off the win.

“We shoot at least 25 free throws every day in practice,” Penrod said. “I have a really good percentage. Christian’s (Brusman) percentage isn’t as high. So, coach has had him shoot 25 more after practice. I stay and shoot 25 with him. That is what you do as teammates.”

Penrod would finish with 22 points and Brusman added 18.

Free had eight points, six rebounds and three assists, Grise had five points and Rupnik added four points.

Trevor Huber had 14 points and six rebounds for Jackson Center and Heitkamp scored 12 points and Lucas Hartle added 11 points.

Platfoot added 10 points and seven rebounds.

Troy Christian finished 21 of 33 from the floor for 64 percent, including five of 12 from 3-point range for 42 percent. The Eagles converted 10 of 16 free throws for 63 percent.

Jackson Center was 21 of 46 from the floor for 46 percent, including four of 16 from long range for 25 percent. The Tigers made just one of eight free throws for 13 percent.

“The first time we played we only got 25 shots,” Zawadzki said. “We wanted to get up around 40 shots tonight.”

Troy Christian won the battle of the boards 25-19 and had eight turnovers to Jackson Center’s three.

“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to win the conference, win the district title and get to the regional final and give ourselves a chance to get to state,” Zawadzki said. “We just happen to be playing one of the best teams in the state. Russia is really talented. They are long and block a lot of shots. They are a really good team.”

So, Troy Christian understands the big challenge — and is excited to have the opportunity.

Sports Editor Rob Kiser can be reached at [email protected]

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