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By TIM EVANS
Press general manager
CLINTON — After claiming the first final four showing in school history, Fisher’s seventh-grade boys basketball team lost a third place game to a talented Carthage team 44-33 Thursday evening in the Class 2A IESA state basketball tournament held at Clinton High School.
Fisher fell behind early and, despite a second-half comeback, could never overcome the huge first-half deficit.
Second-year coach Matt Jokisch said he was “absolutely” proud of his team’s showing.
“They impressed me throughout the year, on and off the court,” he said. Jokisch said the team was a “coach’s dream,” noting that not only the boys responded to make themselves better, but said the involvement and support of parents throughout the season was also worthwhile.
“We had a few bumps, but it was a nice, gradual ride up all the way to state,” said Jokisch, calling it a “fun experience.”
The coach said he’s pretty sure it’s the first time in school history a Fisher team has gotten that far in the IESA tournament, noting he’s looked for other signs of success to no avail.
“This is the real deal,” he said.
Carthage’s Blueboys came out with a swarming defense and fast-paced offense to roll to a 17-5 first period lead that swelled to 35-13 by halftime.
“Carthage was a good, old classic team,” said Jokisch, noting they had height inside, good guards and shooters.
Kennedy Gooding, who led Carthage with 19 points, hit eight field goals from his center position while Connor Artman, who Jokisch called a “classic point guard who could handle the ball well, penetrate and dish the ball,” had 16 points on four field goals, one three-pointer and 5-6 free throw shooting.
Carthage also had a strong shooter in Jacob Bryan, but he was limited to two points thanks to some fine defensive work by Fisher’s Dawson Purvis.
“He kept Bryan from hitting those threes. He’s a great shooter,” Jokisch said. “He was all over him.”
The coach said he was fortunate his Scotties had time to prepare for Carthage or it could have been worse. Playing without one of their best players, Ryan Meents, the Scotties had to reinvent themselves, the coach said. Meents broke his foot in a first-round state game against Grand Ridge.
“He’s one of our scoring leaders, our leading rebounder and led the team in just about every category. He’s an extremely well-rounded player, and not having him on the court is a big blow,” Jokisch said.
The coach said every Fisher player rose to the occasion.
Those changes helped the Scotties win the second half, 20-9, by taking the third period 12-7 and the finale, 8-2, to cut the lead to 11 by the end of the game.
The coach credited Kade Thomas for his standout play as he hit a trio of three-pointers to lead the Scotties with nine.
“He did something special on the offensive end,” Jokisch said, noting he caused other players on the team “to become more aggressive.”
He also complimented the defensive efforts of Purvis and Chris Young, noting Young hadn’t played any type of organized basketball until this year and used his big stature to nab rebounds and shut down the Carthage size in the second half.
“It was a wonderful defensive effort,” the coach said.
Brandon Henson also had seven points for the Scotties, hitting a shot from behind the arc while canning all four of his free throws. Nick Harness scored four for the Fisher squad while Purvis hit three and Chris Young had two.
Cameron Sublon also played as did Matthew Bohlman and Anthony Sommer while Meents finished his season on the bench. Carthage finished the season 26-1, losing only to eventual champion Decatur Robertson, which was 25-2. Normal Metcalf (22-2) placed second, losing to Decatur 54-49 in overtime in the championship game.
Fisher got into the third-place game by defeating Grand Ridge 60-52 in the first round of the tourney before losing to Normal Metcalf 44-26 in the semi-finals.
The Scotties wrap up an outstanding season with the fourth- place finish after sharing the conference title with a 6-1 record with Holy Trinity of Bloomington and Heyworth.
The coach said the boys will take to the baseball fields and compete in track and field this spring. He said small-town life in Fisher allows them to not have to concentrate on one sport and gives them diversification in providing the youths with a variety of activities that include “sports, church and community.”
“That’s the advantage of growing up in a small town,” the coach said, noting the boys will likely participate in some summer camps and tournaments. “They’re good, well-rounded kids,” Jokisch. “I like these boys having the opportunity to grow up in a small town.”
Jokisch said he plans to be back next year with assistant coach Joe Meents to help build another contender.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said, noting the development of the kids throughout the season was remarkable.