By Conor Revell
Presentation head coach David Jackson and his daughters Courtney and Dara were hoping Tuesday night’s game wouldn’t be their last together.
But the Toppers struggled down the stretch and fell 58-47 to host Central in a 25th District semifinal, ending Dara’s high school career.
“It has been a lot of fun coaching her,” David Jackson said. “I know I have been hard on her and I hate doing that because she’s my daughter. But she knows it’s all coming from the love and coaching. It has been quite a pleasure.”
Dara echoed that sentiment.
“I’ve loved every second of it,” she said. “I loved playing for him and I loved playing with my sister. It has been a great four years.”
Pres (17-14) pulled into a 45-45 tie with Central (17-9) when Julia Vogt sank two free throws with 3:40 left, but the Yellowjackets ended the game on a 13-2 run.
Forward Stephonie Cole gave the Toppers fits in the paint, scoring six points during Central’s closing run and ended up with nine in the fourth quarter.
“She’s a load down there and when she gets the ball we don’t have the muscle to stop her,” David Jackson said. “You have to hope that she’ll put it on the floor one too many times and we can get a hand on it before she tries to score. She killed us down the stretch. Every time they needed a basket, they got her the basketball.”
Cole scored only three points through the first three quarters.
The Yellowjackets started pulling away when they scored the last seven points of the first half for a 27-21 lead at the break.
But Lilly Stephenson scored the first five points of the second half, igniting a 13-2 run that put the Toppers up 34-29.
“We knew what we had to do and we got a lot of good shots off in the first quarter,” David Jackson said. “But we missed a lot of layups and runners that we normally get. Some of them were blocked. They were coming after us. I told them we had to settle down and continue to do what we’re doing. We made four of our first five shots in the second half and that got us back into the game.”
Stephenson led the Toppers with 13 points despite spending most of the second half in foul trouble.
“In the first half our shots weren’t falling,” the junior guard said. “We were missing everything. Instead of going into them and drawing the foul, we were fading away from them. At halftime he (David Jackson) told us to start going into them.”
There were five ties and 13 lead changes throughout the game.
Precious Hereford’s layup put Central up 47-45 with 2:45 play and the Toppers never led again.
“I think we lost because of layups,” Dara Jackson said. “I know I missed a lot. I know Courtney missed a few. If we had made a few of those early on, that could have perhaps put us in the lead and maybe change the result. I think that really hurt us.”
Hereford led Central with 15 points. Taryn Glass and Lisa Guin added 11 each.
The Toppers only hit 7 of 14 from the foul line and went 4 of 10 in the final quarter.
The Jackson sisters were the last players to leave Pres’ locker room after the game, and tears were flowing as reality hit that it was the last time they would walk out together.
“It has been a lot of fun,” Courtney said. “She pushes me a lot more than the other ones because I’m her sister and she expects more. Sometimes we would get on each other, but at the end of the day I know she’s always trying to make me better. It’s going to be hard without her next year.”
The two Jacksons helped Stephenson with the offensive punch. Dara chipped in 10 points and Courtney added nine points and seven rebounds.
When asked about what she’ll miss most about Pres basketball, Dara said, “Playing for my dad.”
The good news for the Toppers is that Dara was their only senior. Courtney Jackson, Stephenson, Vogt (14 rebounds), and fellow starter Lauren Nunnelley (seven points) will be back next season.
While a lot of familiar faces will be there, it’ll be a new experience for Courtney as she will be playing without her big sister there for support.
“I’m going to miss being around her all the time,” Courtney said. “She’s going to go off to college and I’m not going to be able to play with her. I’ve always looked up to her when she’s on the court. Hopefully, when I’m out there I can have the same attitude she has.”