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Jackson-Milton beats rival WR for third time

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Nick McGinnis, center, of Jackson-Milton drives to the basket as Ryan Gordon, left and Noah Klasic of Western Reserve try to stop him.

NORTH JACKSON — For the third time this season, Jackson-Milton met up with Western Reserve, but this time it was in the opening round of tournament play. The Blue Jays, who won each of the first two meetings by four points, overcame a slow start to complete the season sweep, taking down Western Reserve, 44-41.

“Definitely not the way we wanted to start it,” Blue Jays coach Stephen Procopio said. “I tell the kids all the time, joking around, ‘We love to make things interesting’, and we’ve had a bad habit all year of coming out flat to begin the game. It happened to us again tonight and it almost cost us.”

Jackson-Milton started very slow, with only three points in the opening quarter.

Going into the second frame trailing 13-3, senior Cole Grope sparked the Blue Jays, scoring seven of his 12 points to help close the deficit to two by the break.

“In that second quarter Cole Grope really took over the game,” Procopio said. “He was attacking, he was doing what he does best, and when he’s attacking, it’s hard to stop him because what are you going to do, are you gonna let him attack or are you going to have him dump off a pass to AJ (Bouch). That’s what makes us at our best.”

“Playing to their best” was Procopio’s halftime message and it worked, as Jackson-Milton outscored the opposition 27-22 in the second half.

“We just needed to stick to the game plan, we haven’t changed all year,” Procopio said. “We do the same things, just stick to what we do best. We do a great job of attacking and dropping off to our bigs. With AJ Bouch on the inside, we do a great job of attacking and being able to dump it off to our bigs for easy buckets.”

A big part of that was Bouch, who finished with a game-high 18 points. When Bouch is on, Procopio says JM is a much more difficult team to beat.

“It’s huge to get AJ going,” he said. “A lot of teams game-plan around stopping AJ and to have him be able to dominate the game down in the post sets the tone for us. When AJ is scoring, we’re really tough to beat.”

Jackson-Milton has beaten the Blue Devils three times this season, by a combined 11 points. Western Reserve ends its season at 6-15.

The Blue Jays (13-10) advance to a sectional bracket final against another Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference Scarlet Tier rival in Sebring on Friday.

“They’re a lot like Western Reserve,” Procopio said. “They’re a scrappy team, they play hard, and just just got a big victory over Springfield, so they might be turning the corner.”

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