Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
PEEBLES — Late in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s Division IV regional semifinal, Jacey Justice — attempting to chase down a loose ball near her own bench — dove face first onto the hardwood and got up wincing.
It was a hustle play that, with under two minutes left in the game and her team holding a four-point lead, not many defenders think to make. But Jacey had a game plan she wanted to stick to.
“The key was just hustling, no loose ball goes untouched, and just working our butts off,” Jacey said. “We wanted to rebound, move the ball around and get good shots off. That was the game plan coming in … we just wanted to work our hind ends off.”
That exact mindset is why Peebles pulled off a 46-42 upset of state-ranked Notre Dame, advancing to the program’s first regional final this side of the year 2000.
Jacey, who leads the Indians in scoring while averaging 23.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, ended Thursday with just 13 points. But her ability to find open teammates and draw the attention of the Titans’ defense allowed her teammates to flourish around her.
Tatum Arey had a huge night, scoring 15 points, while Lilly Gray scored 10 of her own. When that type of production happens, Peebles is at its best.
“I’m so happy that I have teammates who are able to step up and hit shots,” Jacey said. “I’ll drive and get them open shots, but it makes me feel good when my teammates get noticed. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”
It’s fair to say that Jacey wouldn’t be where she is had she not watched her two older brothers, Blake and Beau, grow up playing the game she loves. Directly after beating Notre Dame, those two were the first she called to deliver the good news.
“We’re really competitive. After [Thursday’s] game, Beau and Blake both called me and I’m like, ‘I made it farther than you guys ever did [in the tournament],’” Jacey said, laughing. “They were a little mad but they want the best. We support each other and we’re proud of each other.”
The competitiveness she has with her brothers has always been a thing. Her mother and head coach, Billie Jo Justice, says that she’s used her siblings as crutches when times get tough.
After all, that’s what siblings are for.
“She’s had two older brothers who have had success, too,” Billie Jo said. “They talk to her after every game because it does get tough. There’s a lot of pressure, people key on her and they try to rattle her. From last year to this year, there’s been a lot of maturity. She’s grown into her position more. Her teammates help and they have patience with her when she gets a little frustrated. She’s very competitive and she wears that emotion on her face. But she’s grown a lot. 80 percent of the game is mental and she’s learned how to deal with that part of the game.”
Some of that 80 percent has to do with superstition.
Jacey says before every game, her and her team keep the exact same routines. For instance, she puts up at least 100 foul shots, eats a turkey sandwich and makes sure to sit in the exact same place on the bus ride.
“We’re very superstitious,” Jacey said, smiling. “We wear everything the same, we eat everything the same, we all sit on the same spots on the bus, we leave at the same time. All of that. I guess it’s worked so far.”
Saturday evening, those same things will be happening as the Indians, at 19-7, get set to take on Shadyside in a Division IV regional final at Pickerington North High School. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 p.m.
Confidence is key.
“The key thing with us is that, early in the year, we weren’t really confident in ourselves,” Billie Jo said. “But as we’ve gotten better, we’ve started to trust ourselves more.”
A win would give the Indians their first state semifinal berth since 1998 and just the second-ever in program history. The Indians would play either Arlington or Ottoville in Columbus.
However, while she knows what’s at stake, that game isn’t on Jacey’s mind. She’s laser-focused on Shadyside, a team that comes in at 23-4 after beating Newark Catholic, 51-48.
“It’s just one game at a time,” Jacey said. “We want to win a regional title now and then, you never know. But we have to win the first one, first.”