After 15 years, the St. Henry High School boys basketball team is back in the Division IV state tournament.
Redskins senior Zach Niekamp scored 15 points as St. Henry held on to beat Jackson Center in a thriller 46-43 in a regional final on Friday night at Fairmont’s Trent Arena.
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“I’m so excited for our seniors as well as the other 10 guys on this basketball team,” said Redskins coach Eric Rosenbeck. “They’ve gone through just a ton internally throughout the year, a lot of things that don’t happen at St. Henry and it never fazed them. They kept showing up for work every single day, being mentally tough and they were rewarded tonight.”
The Redskins (24-3) advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 2004. They’ll play Berlin Hiland in a state semifinal game at noon Friday, March 22, at Ohio State University’s Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
Jackson Center finished its season 22-6. The Tigers trailed by nine points in the fourth quarter, but senior Trent Platfoot and his teammates rallied to pull within two points.
“The fact that we fought back and put ourselves in a position to tie or win the game speaks to our kids’ characters,” Tigers coach Scott Elchert said. “We were just one play short, I guess.”
The Tigers led 18-17 at the half, but the Redskins fought back to take a 28-26 lead into the fourth quarter.
Senior Jay Knapke scored 11 points for the Redskins, the majority of which came in the second half surge to help them take the lead for good.
“Jay Knapke is the epitome of St. Henry basketball,” Rosenbeck said. “He was JV player last year, now he’s first team all-league making huge plays in the regional final. He just never stops, he’s relentless and that relentlessness paid off, especially in the fourth quarter tonight.”
The Redskins went on a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter, jumping out to a 35-26 lead – but Platfoot and his teammates weren’t going to go down without a fight.
Platfoot had a game-high 28 points, including 15 points in the fourth quarter. He nailed a deep 3-pointer with about 20 seconds left to make it 45-43. A 3-point attempt by Tigers senior TJ Esser with about 10 seconds remaining rimmed out.
“That’s what a senior that’s a great player does,” Elchert said of Platfoot. “We had an agreement before we left practice (on Thursday) that we were going to meet for practice on Monday and I think he was trying to carry through with his promise on that.”
The Redskins will face Berlin Hiland in the state semis, but “don’t know a thing about them,” Rosenbeck said.
“We focus 100 percent on each tournament that we’re in, the sectional tournament, then we focus on the district tournament and then those teams in the regional,” Rosenbeck said. “We’ve got until Friday, which is a great thing that gives us an extra day of prep. We’ll get everything we need together this weekend and be ready for practice on Monday.”
St. Henry has won four state titles – 2004, 1991, 1990 and 1979 – in its five previous appearances in the state tournament.
“Our goal has never been to get to state, our goal has been to win state,” Rosenbeck said. “We just saw our neighbors to the east Marion Local do it last year, so we know if they can do it, we can do it.”
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