Jay County High School’s bench and cheering section erupts in celebration after one of many big moments in overtime during the Patriots 52-51 double-overtime victory in the sectional championship game against Wapahani. (The Commercial Review/Tom Casey)
Jay County High School’s bench and cheering section erupts in celebration after one of many big moments in overtime during the Patriots 52-51 double-overtime victory in the sectional championship game against Wapahani. (The Commercial Review/Tom Casey)
Editor’s note: With a void in sports, The Commercial Review will occasionally run past stories from key events in the area’s athletic history. This story, from March 7, 1994, recaps the improbable sectional championship for the Jay County High School boys basketball team after finishing the regular season 1-19. Jay County was the first school to win a sectional title after a 1-19 record, and the 2009 Caston Comets joined the 1993-94 Patriots in that regard. This was Jay County’s 10th sectional crown in program history.

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The team which wore a can’t-win label throughout the regular season has a new title — sectional champion.

Indiana basketball is filled with stories of unbelievable performances, and the Jay County Patriots added another chapter to the history book by claiming the title in their own sectional Saturday night.

Jay County — the same team that had shown often it could compete but which never had shown it could win under pressure — won one of the most pressure-packed and dramatic tournament games in school history as it defeated Wapahani 52-51 in double overtime.

The Patriots’ Jim Ferrell, whose free throw with but one second showing on the clock in the second overtime gave his team the title, said it best seconds after cutting down his piece of the net: “No one thought we could do it, but we showed them.”

Jay County, which could have thrown in the towel so many times during this most difficult of seasons, never did in the championship game — despite scoring just eight points in the first half.

And the team that never stopped believing came up with an unbelievable performance as it rallied from 14 points down in the second half and, unlike so many times during the regular season, finished the job it started.

JCHS coach Jim Black, with a firm grip on the sectional championship trophy as he sat in his office about 30 minutes after a last-gasp shot by Wapahani clanged off the rim, said it was his proudest moment in more than 20 seasons of coaching.

“I can’t imagine anything being more special for these kids, with what they’ve gone through this season. We’ve talked all season about how these kids were winners without winning games, and tonight, fortunately, we can celebrate both. I’m so very proud,” Black said.

“It’s a special victory … one that will probably be talked about around here as long as there is a Jay County High School.”

Jay County (3-10), which will play Alexandria (16-6) in the opening game of Saturday’s regional (11 a.m.), played almost perfect basketball down the stretch.

The Patriots had just four turnovers in the final 22 minutes of the game, made 13-of-22 shots form the floor and — most important of all — made their free throws.

And none of those free throws was more dramatic than Ferrell’s.

The 6-1 junior led the Patriots in scoring this season and led the way to the championship Saturday night. Ferrell entered the sectional hitting only 62 percent of his free throws, but 50 percent was good enough with the game on the line.

“I knew we’d at least go to another overtime and be able to win the game even if I missed both (free throws). I just tried to stay confident and relaxed,” Ferrell said.

Ferrell missed his first attempt as the pressure and tension built to a fever pitch, but he knocked home the second off to send off a wild mid-court celebration that was delayed momentarily by an Andy Swift 3-pointer that just missed.

Wapahani, which closes out a 19-3 season with yet another sectional disappointment, tied the score at 51-all on Swift’s baseline jump shot at 1:14 of the second OT.

The Patriots, who have had trouble all season handling the ball against pressure defense, ran nearly a minute off the clock — with a few close calls — before Ferrell, trapped along the sideline by two Wapahani defenders, called time-out with 15 seconds remaining.

The Patriots executed perfectly against Wapahani’s man-to-man defense, as Brian Bickel took the in-bounds pass and got it to Jeremy Kelly near the top of the key. Kelly dribbled right with a spin move and found Andy Mitchel on the right wing.

Mitchel, following the play diagrammed in the time-out, lobbed a pass cross-court to Ferrell, standing on the left wing just outside the 3-point line.

With the clock winding down, Ferrell hesitated, pump-faked, and took one dribble towards the basket before bringing the ball up for a last shot.

But that shot was never released, as Wapahani’s Tony Jones — the Raiders’ emotional leader who was hampered the entire tournament with a stress fracture in his foot — reached in to slap the ball away.

Tony Ortman, who was standing along the sideline about 10 feet away, blasted his whistle, pointed at Jones to signal a foul and held up two fingers, giving Ferrell two chances to give the Patriots the most unlikely tournament win in school history.

Wapahani called time-out in an attempt to ice the 6-1 junior, and Ferrell’s first attempt bounced off the rim to the right.

With the pressure mounting (“My knees started shaking,” said Ferrell), he rattled home the second free throw for the final margin.

The celebration was delayed momentarily as the Raiders threw the in-bounds pass long to Swift, whose 22-foot shot at the buzzer bounced off the backboard and front of the rim as more than 2,000 fans held their breath.

A sea of JCHS fans — including students, parents, cheerleaders and those caught up in the moment — rushed the floor and swarmed the victors in a frenzied rush that was capped off a few minutes later with the ringing of the Patriot victory bell.

Wapahani coach Chris Benedict, whose team had lost a heartbreaker to Jay County in the 1993 sectional semifinals, said he was proud of both teams.

“It was just two teams playing their hearts out tonight, and unfortunately one team had to win … and we had to lose,” said Benedict. “It’s difficult to explain a situation like this to 17 and 18-year-old kids … how they can learn from this and go on and make themselves better for it.”

Drama and tension were present throughout the fourth quarter and both overtimes, and players from both teams came through with huge plays under pressure.

Ferrell and teammate Spencer Ritchie played the lead roles for the Patriots.

Ferrell hit two free throws with 16 seconds left in regulation to put Jay up by one before Wapahani’s Swift was fouled and tied the score at 41-all by hitting the second of two free throws with only three seconds remaining.

And Ritchie, who has been the first or second player off the bench most of the season for Jay County, also had several huge plays.

His high-arching six-footer in the lane with just six seconds left in the first overtime tied the game 47-all and kept the Patriots alive, and he also hit the first of two free throws with 18 seconds remaining in regulation to pull the Patriots within one point.

Wapahani, which got a game-high 20 points from Jason Bridges, got solid efforts from both Swift (13 points) and Ryan Barrett (11 points) down the stretch.

Swift forced overtime when he hit the second of two free throws with three seconds left in regulation, and Barrett hit a 3-pointer for a 47-45 Wapahani lead with 30 seconds left in the first overtime but missed a free throw that would have put the Raiders up by three.

Wapahani opened the second OT with a Bridges basket, but Jay County, which outscored Wapahani 7-0 from the free throw line in the two overtimes, answered with Mitchel’s conventional 3-point play at the 2:09 mark.

Kelly hit the front end of a one-and-one at 1:33 for a two point JCHS lead, but Swift’s mid-range jumper tied it at 51-all with 1:14 to go, setting up the last minute dramatics.

The Patriots took a four-point lead on two free throws each by Ferrell and Mitchel in the opening 1:33 of the first overtime, only to have the Raiders answer with back-to-back 3-pointers — first by Swift from the left corner at 1:12 and then by Barrett at :36 — as they went up 47-45 after Kelly missed the first of a one-and-one with 46 seconds left.

The Patriots eventually worked the ball to Ferrell on the baseline with under 10 seconds left and he passed to Ritchie in the lane.

Ritchie had to arch his shot high over two Raider defenders, but it rattled home to tie the score at 47-all.

Jay County’s fourth quarter rally was nearly derailed by two missed free throws in the opening two minutes, and Wapahani pushed the lead back up to 10 points, 35-25, with 5:17 to play after leading by just seven heading into the fourth quarter.

But that’s when the Patriots began to take control and actually make the Raiders, who have been looking so good in close games all year, look shaky.

Ritchie cut the margin to eight with a bucket at 5:03, and Ritchie’s layup after a Ferrell steal made it a six-point game.

That’s when Ferrell really started to come through, as he personally outscored Wapahani 7-2 over the next two-plus minutes with first two free throws, then a huge 3-pointer at the 1:57 mark, then tow more free throws after a Ritchie steal to pull the Patriots within a point, 37-36, with 1:46 to play.

Wapahani’s Chris Lee hit two free throws at 1:35 for a 39-36 advantage, but Jay’s Mitchel pulled down the first of three huge offensive rebonds by the Patriots in the final minute and his put-back basket at :56 pulled the Patriots within one once again.

After a JCHS time-out the Raiders threw the ball to a breaking Bridges, who was fouled by Jay’s Kelly to prevent a layup.

Bridges hit the second of two shots, setting up the dramatic final 18 seconds.

Ritchie rebounded Bickel’s missed 3-pointer and was fouled with 18 seconds left. Ritchie hit the first free throw but his second hit hard off the back of the rim and Ferrell out-dueled Bridges for the rebound and was fouled as the two came down.

Wapahani called time-out after Ferrell hit both ends of the one-and-one, and Ferrell interrupted a wild celebration by the Patriots as they ran to the bench by telling his teammates, “It’s not over yet.”

It wasn’t.

Jay County was successful in denying the Raiders’ point guard, Lee, to get the ball, but Swift ended up with it on the right wing in the waning seconds and drove right to the baseline.

He went up for an eight-footer that missed, but Ortman called a bumping foul on Jay’s Ritchie, giving Swift the opportunity to send the game into overtime with just three seconds left in regulation.

Jay County couldn’t get a shot off after setting up an in-bounds play, giving the fans six more minutes of breath-taking basketball.

The Patriots have certainly had experience with second-half comebacks — especially late in the season — but there was much grumbling and little faith they could do it after they fell behind 20-8 on 4-for-16 shooting in the first half.

But Jay’s defense, with the exception of the defense against Bridges (11 first-half points), was almost as good as the offense was bad.

“It was just unreal in the first half how much we were struggling offensively, but the defense really kept us in it. To only score eight points and to go into the half only down 12 is unbelievable,” Black said.

But the Patriots, appearing more relaxed and confident against Wapahani’s 2-1-2 half-court zone, began to loosen up in the third quarter, and outscored the Raiders 15-10 to cut their deficit to just seven points, 30-23, heading into the fourth quarter.

One of the biggest plays of the game momentum-wise may have been the last one of the third quarter, as the Patriots had the ball out-of-bounds with two seconds left on the opposite end of the court from their basket.

Jay’s Mitchel, who has played quarterback for the JCHS freshman football team, lofted a perfect 85-foot pass to Ferrell at the other end of the court.

Ferrell caught the ball and calmly drilled a 17-footer at the buzzer to give the Patriots a much-needed boost of confidence.

But the most important factor in the second half may have been free throws.

The Patriots, with a reputation for falling apart under pressure and losing their aggression, made all 17 of their free throws in the second half, six more than the Raiders attempted.