ST. JOSEPH — Not all coaches embrace Senior Night like Jeff Finis, the St. Joseph-Ogden girls’ basketball coach.
He does his part to make the farewell game a memorable one for the seniors in his program.
Finis starts the seniors, and not just for a cursory appearance that allows them to get their names heard over the public address system. They’re on the court until almost the four-minute mark of the opening quarter.
As the game enters its final minutes, he makes certain the seniors are reunited on the court and stay together until the final buzzer sounds.
He recognizes that the seniors are the ones with the most sweat and tears, the most sacrifices and the longest commitments.
“They’ve put in four years,” Finis said. “Let ’em play. They’ve earned it. The younger ones look up to the seniors who’ve put in four years.”
The Spartans (17-7) concluded the regular season with a 57-46 win Thursday against Paxton-Buckley-Loda, and the seniors played a key role. Every SJ-O basket in the first 91/2 minutes (two by Emily Dunlap and one by Kassidy Duckett) were courtesy of the seniors. Fittingly, Duckett and Dunlap are the team’s captains.
By game’s end, all four seniors had at least a point or a rebound. Sarah Foreman and Lindsay Keltz were the other seniors who joined Dunlap — a regular starter — and Duckett in the lineup for the opening tip.
“I had fun (Thursday night),” Dunlap said. “I wasn’t nervous. It was the last time I’d play here, and I was mentally prepared.”
The Spartans and PBL battled to a 17-17 halftime tie. SJ-O fell behind 26-21 before Duckett and Dunlap came to the rescue midway through the third quarter. A Duckett basket and a three-pointer by Dunlap within a 25-second span pulled the Spartans into a 26-26 tie.
From there, sophomore Aysia Jacobs took over. She hit 8 of 11 shots during the last 11:14 and totaled a game-high 22 points.
“She’s quick, passes well and is one to attack,” Finis said.
Another sophomore, Katie Landis, made 5 of 6 free throws in the last 1:15 to prevent the Panthers from rallying.
Dunlap was soaking it all up.
“When we were standing at the free throw line, the seniors were looking at each other and celebrating,” she said. “It’s so fun to do it with the other seniors. All of us came together (Thursday night). Everyone on the team got to feel what it’s like.”
Jacobs and Dunlap (11 points) were SJ-O’s only double-figure scorers.
Jori Maynard led PBL (10-14) with 15 points, including three three-pointers. Kellyn Maynard had 14 points and Janel Flanigan — who made her first four shots — ended with nine. Kellyn Maynard grabbed a game-high eight rebounds.
When the teams played in Paxton, the Panthers posted a five-point win.
“We had more energy and fixed our mistakes,” Dunlap said. “We did what we needed to do.”