By DYLAN MALONE
Being an AC graduate myself, I can remember well the anticipation of winning the first round game of the ACAC tournament knowing we would be headed for the Coliseum’s grand stage.
Unfortunately for Adams Central this season, that dream was crushed by the Heritage Patriots on Tuesday night when they came into the Hangar, played the best game they could play, and found the Jets on a rare bad shooting night.
The Jets were the victims of “looking-past-your-opponent-syndrome” with a potential meeting with the Bluffton Tigers looming at the Coliseum. Now South Adams will be the only team from Adams County to make an appearance in Fort Wayne tonight.
Is the Jets’ 20-win season in jeopardy? Without the win against Heritage, the Jets lose out on a potential two extra win opportunities with a tough schedule looming ahead. They will get their shot at Bluffton and Leo, just not at the Coliseum. A rematch with Heritage is also on the horizon as well as a meeting with a tough Blackhawk Christian school from 1A.
Can coach McClure’s squad mentally recover from this loss? No AC team has ever won 20 games in a season. The Jets still have a few team goals now that the ACAC title is not happening. Winning the season title is not out of the question with wins against Leo and Bluffton in the next month as well as some help from the rest of the ACAC teams. The Jets also believe they have the team capable of getting out of a sectional featuring perennial powerhouse Bishop Luers and Bluffton. With a deep playoff run very much a possibility for AC, a 20-win season is not crossed off the goals list yet.
The Starfires of South Adams were projected to be in the basement of the conference…and that’s where they sit for the time being. But I had the opportunity to witness a transformation in the senior class leading the Berne boys on Tuesday night when they pulled a “Heritage” and came into Woodlan’s house and stole a game.
Despite how close the game ended up, the Stars showed their poise and potential on the road in what easily was their best all-around game of the season thus far.
Coach Andy Brown said it best when he told me that his team, “Had a different feel.” They looked like they belonged out there as opposed to other games where the offense seemed to be tentative and the defense lost. Against Jay County, a game in which the Stars did not score a point until the second quarter, nobody on the floor for South Adams wanted to take a shot and the attempts they did get were unassisted, forced, and ill-timed.
Against Woodlan, the offense flowed through the seniors Dustin Wanner and Scott Hoeppner, as it should every night. Wanner would not be denied against the Warriors and it started from the tip and ended when the fourth quarter buzzer sounded as he ended with 27 points and six very big free throws. Hoeppner was no slouch either as he had 16 points including two huge three-pointers to retake the lead from Woodlan in the third quarter.
When these two seniors are rolling offensively, it gives purpose to the other Stars roaming the offense. Players like Chase Mosser who before would feel pressured to take shots when nothing is falling took only two shot attempts against Woodlan, but made his presence felt with solid passing and a great defensive effort against Brock Hines, part of Woodlan’s one-two punch on offense. The big guys Matt Alig and Mark Smith were the beneficiaries of the press break early in the game against Woodlan. By spacing the floor against Woodlan’s full-court press, the seniors pushed the ball with a purpose and found many easy baskets early which led to the 21-11 lead early setting the tone and confidence for SA the entire game.
The Stars face the daunting task of playing Leo for a second time, this time in the semi-finals at the Coliseum tonight. The Starfires, who are considered to be in a rebuilding year in search for an identity under their new coach, should hang their heads high no matter what the outcome tonight because they have already exceeded expectations by being the only team (boys or girls) to make it out of the first round.
Heritage takes on their second juggernaut in a row in the form of Bluffton in the game before. South Adams/Leo will tip after that game at 7:30.