Anna got balanced scoring and a passionate defensive effort on its way to handing league-leading Jackson Center its first loss of the season.
Anna – Senior Carter Huelskamp played his best game of the season – as well as he could have dreamed.
He scored 11 points in Anna’s 54-43 win over previously unbeaten Shelby County League Rival Jackson Center Saturday night; and “limited” JC’s dynamic scoring guard, Drew Sosby, to just 23 points.
But more importantly, his passion to compete was infectious – his will to win contagious – as the Rockets put a disappointing performance in last week’s Versailles Holiday Tournament behind them and started 2016, and the second half of their schedule, on a winning note.
It wasn’t easy, of course. SCL games rarely are. Anna led 16-14 at the end of one quarter, and held a 31-24 advantage at the half. But against a Scott Elchert-coached team, whose calling hard is hard, aggressive defense, no lead ever feels safe…no momentum adequate.
“It was important to come out and play the way we played tonight, to put the Versailles tournament and our last game against Miami East behind us,” said Rockets coach Nate Barhorst.
“That was disappointing, but I had kids text me the morning after that game to say ‘let’s get ‘em (Jackson Center).’ They came out tonight with the focus that was missing over at Versailles and played with a passion to compete for four quarters.”
They did just about everything right that one needs to do if you want to beat Jackson Center.
They shared the basketball, and the scoring. In addition to Huelskamp’s 11 points, Kain Luthman contributed 11 of his own and Blake Stephens had a team-high 14.
They defended Jackson’s every possession like pack of wild dogs, pushing Sosby and his backcourt mates out beyond the three-point line in order to make it tougher to get the ball to 6’5” center Brady Wildermuth.
They scrapped for loose balls and frustrated Jackson around the boards to the point where the Tigers missed so many second and third chance shots at the rim it made Scott Elchert’s already gray head a shade whiter.
It was, as much, and as good, as anything Carter Huelskamp and Nate Barhorst could have dreamed.
“Tonight was a lot brighter than the way we play over at Versailles,” said Huelskamp. “This was a really big game for us because it’s Jackson. We were really focused on these guys…we focus on everybody…but they’re one of the main guys in our league.”
A game that could possibly turned the momentum around for the remainder of the Rockets’ schedule? After Saturday’s win they now stand 7-4.
“Let’s hope,” added Huelskamp. “We’ve got Botkins next week, and they’ve got a great player. We just need to keep it going.”
Prior to the game focus was the point of emphasis from Barhorst, something he admitted was missing in their most recent outings.
“Coach made a big point about stopping Sosby and Wildermuth tonight,” said Huelskamp with a smile. “We got one of ‘em stopped (Wildermuth finished with 11 points), and I thought I did a decent job on Sosby (who had a game-high 23). Now the focus is to win out and win the county. We haven’t done that forever. Tonight was a big win, but now we have to get Russia and Fairlawn, and just take ‘em one by one.”
It is a team that Barhorst, and even Scott Elchert, admits to having everything you need to win and dictate terms to any good basketball team on a given night. Anna has size, athleticism, and depth.
“We knew coming in that they’re a very solid team,” said Elchert before boarding the bus home. “They can roll out six or seven guys on you that are good players. They’ve got nice size, they’re good athletes, and that bothered us. But I just felt tonight that while they played well…we just had too many defensive possessions where we didn’t compete. And that’s a dangerous formula against a team like Anna.
“We were unbeaten coming in (8-0), but we’ve had some close calls. We have to start playing with more consistency. We’ve played well in stretches and I think that was magnified again tonight.”
And indeed, Jackson made runs at Anna throughout the game, only to have those consecutive possessions where the Rockets would go on 4, 5, and 6-0 runs.
The good news/bad news is…they play again later in the month, at Jackson. Not an easy chore, as Nate Barhorst concedes for his own team.
And an opportunity for redemption and the consistency that Scott Elchert hopes to see between now and then.
“I have a ton of respect for him (Elchert) and his program,” assured Barhorst. “He hasn’t changed a bit since I played and you know when you go over there it’s a tough place to win.”
But Anna made a case for itself on Saturday, and certainly left something beside short-term frustration in the minds of the Tigers. Mainly, that you never take anyone for granted in Shelby County League basketball; and you’d better come to play every night with some passion, or whatever.
Nate Barhorst called it focus.
Scott Elchert called it consistency to compete.
“They couldn’t afford to lose tonight, to get another league loss,” said Elchert. “They played hard…harder than we did.”
Leaving Carter Huelskamp, who doesn’t mess around with the media much, to ask as we concluded our interview time together in the locker room, “How did I do?”
Eloquent in words, Carter.
And flawless against the ‘main guys’. Better than you could have dreamed!