HARTFORD CITY — The Tipton Blue Devils got a lesson in what it takes to be a champion Friday night, courtesy of the Jay County Patriots.

No. 9-ranked Jay County, trailing 26-18 at halftime after a sparkling second quarter performance by the Blue Devils, came out in the third stanza and imposed its will on Tipton. Led by seniors Scott Bruggeman and Corey Comer, who paced the Patriots to a Class 3A state runner-up finish a year ago, Jay County outscored the Devils 15-0 in the third to take a 33-26 lead. The Patriots made sure Tipton never threatened in the fourth quarter by canning 18 of 22 foul shots to take a 51-41 win in the Class 3A Blackford Sectional semifinals.

Tipton coach Travis Daugherty expected a surge by the Patriots (18-4) after intermission, but his team was unable to stem the tide.

“We tried to explain [to our team] at halftime how much pride a championship team like that has,” he said, “and how that intensity and quickness was going to pick up. I’m disappointed that we couldn’t raise our level [of intensity] to match theirs. At same time, I’m really proud of how we played in the first half.”

Indeed, in the second period it appeared the Devils, who finished 12-10, might be headed toward the sectional finals. After a see-saw opening period that saw seven lead changes and two ties, Tipton, trailing 13-11 at the first stop, stormed ahead in the second. Derek Elston, who had 10 points and 13 boards, tied the game at 13 and then Shawn Friend entered “the zone” for the Devils. The senior forward, who would finish the game with 18 points, hit all four of his shots from the field, including two 3-pointers, and canned three of four free throws for a 13-point quarter. Meanwhile, Tipton’s defense was forcing the Patriots to settle for outside shots. Jay County could manage just two buckets, a deuce and a trey, and the Devils took a 26-18 lead at the half.

Then came the disastrous third period. The Pats turned up the defensive pressure, forcing six turnovers by Tipton, and ruled the boards, not allowing the Devils a single second-chance opportunity. In addition, Jay County’s Clint Muhlenkamp put the clamps on Friend, holding him without a shot.

Meanwhile on the offensive end, the Pats went inside to Comer, who responded with five points to cut the margin to 26-23. Bruggeman hit a 3-pointer to tie and then penetrated for a short pull-up jumper to put Jay County up 28-26. When Billy Wellman followed with a trey, the Patriot fans exploded, and the Devils were visibly shaken, trailing 31-26. Bruggeman knocked down a pair of freebies to close the scoring and Tipton was never able to get closer than five points after that.

Daugherty felt Jay County’s success of a year ago was key.

“I think anytime in high school basketball that you do something like they did [last season], I don’t think you can put a value on it. I think it’s so valuable in a game like tonight.

“There are a lot of things about Jay County’s program that I really admire,” he added. “At the same time, I’m really excited about where our program is headed. Even though it’s difficult getting over that hump, I think we’re closer now than we’ve ever been.”

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