By Rob Kiser
Miami Valley Today
PIQUA — The thing that made this season’s Troy Christian boys basketball team so much fun for Ray Zawadzki to coach was on display Saturday night in a Piqua D-IV district semifinal.
No matter the odds — on this night the fifth seeded Eagles faced top seed Jackson Center — no matter the injuries or illnesses, the Troy Christian team just never stopped battling.
And they led Jackson Center for most of the game before the upset bid came up just short in a 33-29 loss.
“That is never a concern,” Zawadzki said. “These kids are always going to battle. This has been one of most fun teams to coach. Not because they did basketball, but because they grew through basketball.”
And for three-and-a half quarters, the Eagles were in position to win the game.
When Connor Peters had a putback with 5:10 remaining, Troy Christian led 29-23.
But, the Eagles would not score again.
“Give Jackson Center credit,” Zawadzki said. “Because, we ran every set we have, but we just couldn’t get a basket. You know when you play a Scott Elchert coached team, they are going to get after it defensively.”
Christian Elchert hit his third three of the second half to get Jackson Center within 29-26.
After a free throw by Aiden Reichert, Reichert had a 3-point play with 1:28 to go to give the Tigers just their second lead of the game at 30-29.
Camdyn Reesse hit two free throws with 52.5 seconds to go and Elchert added one of two free throws with 28.6 seconds to go for the final margin.
“The coach’s (Scott Elchert) son (Christian Elchert) had a big game for them tonight,” Zawadzki said.
It was Isaac Gray who got off to Troy Christian off to fast start — which should come as no surpise to anyone.
Gray scored 23 points in the first half against Lehman Catholic in a holiday tournament in January in the same gym.
“He (Isaac Gray) feels very comfortable in this gym,” Zawadzki said. “He had 23 points in a half in this gym earlier this season. They were giving him a little room early and he took advantage. They tightened down on him later and we were able to get some baskets on backcuts.”
Troy Christian led 10-5 after one quarter — all from Gray — and 14-10 at half.
And the Eagles were up 20-15 in the third quarter when Garrett Prager had a basket — followed by 3-pointers by Elchert and Clay Akers gave Jackson Center its first lead at 23-20.
Connor Peters answered by being fouled at the third-quarter buzzer on a shot from near midcourt and hitting all three free throws to tie it at 23 going to the fourth quarter.
“That doesn’t surprise me that Connor (Peters) would make a play like that and hit all three free throws,” Zawadzki said.
Gray opened the fourth quarter with a steal and layup and Peters had a putback to make it 29-23, but the Eagles would not score again.
“I am so proud of the kids,” Zawadzki said. “They did a great job executing our game plan tonight.”
Gray led Troy Christian, who finished 19-6, with 14 points and Peters added seven.
Elchert led Jackson Center with 12 points and Reichert scored 11.
Troy Christian was nine of 24 from the floor for 38 percent and a perfect nine-for-nine from the line.
Jackson Center — who made only four two-point field goals, while hitting six 3-pointers — was 10 of 23 from the floor for 43 percent and seven of nine from the line for 78 percent.
The Eagles graduate Izaak Framton, Jordan Isenbarger, Peters, Gray, Tyler Jackson, Aaron Gillespie, Nathan Waltz and Brady Clawson.
“The eight seniors we have are going to be successful and make great contributions to society,” Zawadzki said. “This team didn’t do basketball, it grew through basketball.”
Contact Rob Kiser at [email protected]
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Just another reason Zawadzki will look back at this team with fond memories.