The Blue Jays returned to Shenk Gymnasium for the first time since Jan. 4, and beat Hayden Catholic in a nail-biting 50-49 win Tuesday night.
The win snapped a two-game skid for Junction City, and coach Nick Perez was happy to do it in front of the team’s home fans.
“It felt good to come home; we’ve been on the road for awhile,” Perez said. “I thought we played pretty well last Friday against Washburn. I thought we made some good shots, some good rebounds, got some stops finally. We just have to stop getting carried away on offense. I think we dribble it a lot — we have to pass more. I’m excited our kids find a way to win. That’s the most important thing for us right now is to find a way to win.”
The first half was tight, and neither team was able to garner much separation from the other. With Hayden going into halftime holding a 24-23 lead, the Blue Jays were about to face a big test — the third quarter.
The third quarter in the last few games has been where things have fallen apart for the Blue Jays in their recent matchups. After a 10-zero run for JC to begin the quarter to take a nine-point lead, the Wildcats were able to fight back and narrow the gap to one point after the third frame.
“I was happy for us to come out of the gate, and we did some different things,” Perez said. “We pressed a little bit to speed the tempo up. They turned it over right away; we got a couple steals and some lay-ups. It got us going, and then they took a timeout. We just have to find a way to keep that momentum building. I think we get the momentum and then we kind of take some plays off. We have to find a way to get it going for a full 32 minutes.”
The intensity ramped up in the fourth quarter, with Blue Jays flying all over the court for loose balls and timely rebounds. With Qua’vez Humphries on the bench for a large portion of the fourth quarter, other Blue Jays stepped up in his absence. James Hall and Aaron Hamilton put their bodies on the line for JC when it mattered most, and it did not go unnoticed by their coach.
“James Hall rebounds; he does all the nasty stuff that nobody wants to do for us,” Perez said. “I think he does a fairly good job on defense. He had a couple big defensive rebounds. So did Aaron Hamilton and Anthony Twiggs. I thought they did a great job on the defensive end, and rebounding the basketball. We just have to get better and put it together for 32 minutes. I think if we can do that, we’ll be scary.”
As the fourth quarter wound down, the Wildcats — down by two — went for a three-pointer to try to take the lead in the final seconds, but missed. This sent senior A.J. Dickerson to the line to help seal the game for the Blue Jays.
Dickerson sunk both of his attempts to put JC up 50-46, and add to his game-high 27 points. Hayden proceeded to hit a deep three-pointer to make it a one-point game with 1.2 seconds remaining on the clock. The Blue Jays were able to inbound the ball and avoid getting fouled as the clock hit zeros, and brought the Shenk Gymnasium fans to their feet.
Next up for the Blue Jays on Friday night is Topeka High School.
Perez is relieved to be back in the win column, but he knows it will not get any easier for his squad.
“They’re good — they’re really good,” Perez said. “They’re a good team and they’re well coached. They’re going to come in here and be ready to play. Last year we beat them — we upset them. I know they’ll be focused and ready to go. We have to come out with the same intensity that we normally have. We just have to find a way to put it together for 32 minutes.”
The Blue Jays will tip-off against Topeka Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Shenk Gymnasium.