Karl, Buckeye Central are impressive and a lot of fun to watch

One theme was constant watching Buckeye Central this season.

Jenna Karl is the real deal.

Her leadership and effort is relentless on and off the court as Karl is always in the middle of everything the Bucks have done well over her four years. Not only has she basically broken every basketball record for Buckeye Central, but her impact on Buckeye Central athletics has been immense as she led the volleyball team to state and now the basketball team in the same school year.

Seeing them play twice this year against Carey — their only loss of the season 51-50 on Dec. 27 — it’s not surprising to see the Bucks at the state tournament.

Yes, some things have to bounce a team’s way to make a run to state, but with the overall talent and leadership Karl and the other leaders provide, it’s not shocking.

My first impression of Buckeye Central this season was based on its one loss of the season at Carey. The Bucks were unbeaten going in, but I didn’t know exactly how good they were.

Given the circumstances that it was during the week amid a grueling Northern 10 Athletic Conference schedule and just two days after Christmas, the Bucks didn’t play well in the first half as Carey jumped all over them and led by double digits at the half and for most of the game.

Meanwhile, Carey, who is nothing to sneeze at as it had just three losses the whole season and made the district final game this year, was playing great in front of a home crowd. It’s a game the Blue Devils needed to win coming off a recent 51-50 loss to Upper Sandusky. It was an important game for the Blue Devils to keep pace in the league. They played that way for three quarters until Buckeye Central coach Greg Moore changed things up defensively. He wanted to up the tempo and press the Blue Devils.

It worked.

The Bucks got all the way back in the game as the Bucks upped the pace on both ends of the floor, causing Carey to get flustered a bit with some uncharacteristic turnovers with the senior-laden team they had.

Even though the Bucks couldn’t make it all the way back for a win, I left impressed by the effort and heart the Bucks played with in the second half to make it a game and a nailbiter in the end. Also, another reason to be impressed was Moore putting Karl on 6-foot-2 All-Ohio player Sydney Kin in the post, one-on-one. Karl isn’t the smallest guard, but she is maybe 5-7 or 5-8 at most, but strong and athletic. She gave everything she had and hindered Kin in the post for the Bucks to execute the comeback.

Anything the Bucks need, Karl does it.

She brings the ball up the floor, she can shoot and score, she can rebound her own misses and go up strong in the paint and finish through contact. She gets others involved.

And she has to be one of the most clutch players I’ve ever seen in high school.

Evidence of her clutch ability was shown in the second game I covered, which was at Buckeye Central in a key N10 game with Carey, which would decide the league title.

Unlike the first game, this one was much closer and it was back-and-forth for most of it. Carey had a 3-point advantage with around 10 or so seconds left in the fourth when Moore called a timeout to set up a play to either get a quick two or to try to tie the game with a triple.

Well, the play didn’t set up the way Moore wanted. But it didn’t matter.

Carey defended well all night and really pressured the Bucks’ guards. It did again on the last play of the game as Karl took the inbounds pass and dribbled around trying to find someone open for a shot. Then, the senior guard just pulled up from beyond NBA range and swished the trey to send the game to overtime. It was one of the best shots I’ve ever witnessed.

The Bucks celebrated the amazing game-tying shot, but looking at Karl on the floor — yes she was excited, but she knew they still had an overtime to play. In the midst of chaos, Karl enjoyed the moment, but also was aware of what that shot meant. An opportunity to win the N10.

The Bucks had the momentum and went on to get revenge on Carey with a 55-51 victory.

It was an impressive win for the Bucks, who took the next step and won the N10 this season. Those were two of the more memorable games I’ve gotten to cover this season.

That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to cover today’s state semifinal with Ottoville. The Bucks always play with a lot of heart and passion and Karl is one of my favorite players to watch with her uncanny ability to control every aspect of the game — no matter who lines up across from her.

With the compliment of All-Ohio junior Courtney Pifher, who can play inside utilizing her size or go to the perimeter with a sweet jumpshot. The evolution of 6-2 Lexi Evak in the post, the leadership and defensive effort brought by Emily Stump, the contributions from freshmen Taylor Ratliff and Kyleigh Brown and the spark plug off the bench Elizabeth Heydinger … they put on a show every time they take the court and they play the game the right way.

And despite a win or loss today against the Big Green, I’m confident I will want to see more and more of this team.

Matt Nye is the assistant sports editor for the Advertiser-Tribune.