By Jim Metcalfe
DELPHOS — It came down to one more made free throw statistically as Jefferson slid by Kalida 51-50 in non-league action Friday night at “The Stage” of Jefferson Middle School.
Jefferson (8-5) was without sophomore rotation player Dalton Hicks due to injury, while Kalida (8-4) senior starter Joe Gerdeman and junior bench player Logan Roebke also were out with injuries.
“This has been one weird season between the weather, injuries and illnesses. This week, we didn’t have a practice where at least five of our guys weren’t out due to the flu, which has hit the school overall,” Jefferson coach Marc Smith explained. “This was a great team victory. We told the kids before that game that we were going to have to show mental toughness to make a play somewhere along the line to win the game and we did. We told them that teams to our north — Kalida, Ottoville, Fort Jennings, any Putnam County team boys or girls — have that mental toughness from the start because basketball is in their families and that’s why they regularly send some team to state. We grew up a lot tonight.”
Kalida mentor Dick Kortokrax could concur with Smith.
“This week, we had three of our rotation players — including Joe, who averages double digits — that did not practice due to injuries and two could not go tonight. We’re not using that as an excuse; it’s part of the game,” he observed. “Where it hurts more is on the offensive end — and in the skill level — because you don’t have that continuity you need to be effective. We called upon a couple of junior varsity sophomores to play varsity; it’s what you have to do. We did not have the balance we need to beat a team like Jefferson tonight; give them credit for overcoming what they have gone through.”
As expected between two well-matched teams — with the biggest lead by anyone being five and seeing 18 lead changes and two ties — this one came down to the fourth period. With Jefferson holding a 40-36 lead after 24 minutes, the visitors scored the first five points to take a 41-40 edge on a putback by junior Cole Miller, only to see the hosts retake it on a putback by senior Austin Jettinghoff. There were four lead changes from then on, the last to make it 47-46 on a bomb from the left wing by Jettinghoff with 3:04 left. Neither team could convert until senior Ross Thompson put back his own miss to make it 49-46. Kalida junior Devin Kortokrax replied with a basket to get his team within 49-48, only to see Thompson answer on a drive to make it 51-48.
With 6.0 seconds to go, sophomore Trent Gerding — seeing his first serious varsity action of the season — sank two free throws to make it a one-point game. Kalida fouled Jefferson sophomore Trey Smith, but Smith missed the front end, Gerding rebounded and called time out with 4.0 seconds left. However, Kalida had to go the length of the floor and Kortokrax’s 50-footer was way short as time expired.
“Kalida has used the same successful defensive concept for years: make your third and fourth options beat you. We knew Ross and Trey would get a lot of attention because they are good players,” Coach Smith added. “What I saw that will help us was Jace stepping up and hitting some big shots and our bench, especially Tyler (Rice), giving us key minutes. We have had confidence in these guys all year and now they can see it too. We are hoping that their confidence continues to grow and that will only make us better. Again, this was a great team effort. To beat Kalida, you’d better be able to defend the post, rebound and play with mental toughness; we did all three.”
Adam Langhals 2-0-6, Austin Swift 0-0-0, Luke Langhals 2-0-4, Devin Kortokrax 6-5-19, Randy Zeller 4-0-11, Trent Gerding 0-0-0, Cole Miller 3-0-6. Totals 11-7-7/8-50.
Jace Stockwell 4-0-10, Austin Jettinghoff 3-1-8, Ross Thompson 5-0-11, Trey Smith 2-4-8, Tyler Mox 1-1-3, Nick Fitch 0-2-2, Tyler Rice 3-0-9. Totals 11-7-8/13-51.
Score by Quarters:
Kalida 12 13 11 14 - 50
Jefferson 10 19 11 11 - 51
Three-point goals: Kalida, Zeller 3, A. Langhals 2, Kortokrax 2; Jefferson, Rice 3, Stockwell 2, Jettinghoff, Thompson.