CANTON — Locked in a tight Division I district semifinal with Perry on Wednesday night, Jackson's Anthony Mazzeo had a little conversation with himself after a poor first half by his standards.
“I was just telling myself, ‘I’ve got to get it going. I’ve got to get it going,’ ” the senior guard said. “My teammates were telling me the same thing. That’s always nice to have that positive feedback in your ear.”
There are plenty of reasons to believe in Mazzeo and the two-time defending district champions.
Jackson kicked it into gear when it had to and pulled away from Perry for a 55-44 win at Memorial Civic Center. Mazzeo scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half as the No. 1 seed Polar Bears (19-5) advanced to Saturday’s 7:30 district final to play the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between Green and Boardman.
It’s the sixth consecutive year Jackson will play in a district final, and that experience showed as it took control after leading just 20-19 at the break.
“I think we just had more energy,” said Mazzeo, who is coming off an illness from last week. “I’ll be the first to admit: I didn’t play my greatest in the first half. I was very sluggish. But I just started taking care of the ball a little bit better and we sat down on the defensive end and went on a little run.”
The run actually was enormous considering the low-scoring grinder of a game that was taking place.
Perry led 31-28 when junior Reese Heater made a 3-pointer with 2:43 left in the third quarter. The Panthers didn’t score again for almost six minutes of game action.
Mazzeo answered Heater’s 3-pointer with one of his own, triggering a 7-0 Jackson run to close the third.
That became a 15-0 run when the Polar Bears scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter, with Mazzeo and senior post Will Hyde scoring four each.
After the dust settled, Jackson led 43-31 and was well on its way to the final.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games and it’s nice to have guys that have been in the district semis,” Jackson coach Tim Debevec said.
“... Guys have been sick and are fighting through it. Trent [Jones] was sick today, but [guys] came through for us.”
Mazzeo grabbed seven rebounds and finished with four steals, Hyde totaled 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots, and Jones overcame a stomach illness to add 10 points and four rebounds.
Junior post Jagger Haynes finished with 16 points and three assists to lead the Panthers (14-11), who registered their first winning season in six years. Heater added 13 points.