One of the most commonly used mantras in sports is “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” The 2017-18 Calhoun boys basketball team is a shining example of that.

The Jackets, who started the season 1-9, showed that if you get hot at the right time, you can accomplish great things. That’s what happened as Calhoun started playing their best basketball late in the schedule and rode that momentum to a 4-0 run through the Region 6-AAA Tournament that culminated with a 63-53 victory over Bremen on Saturday night in the championship game at Sonoraville High to give them their sixth straight region title.

“It’s kind of unreal,” said Calhoun coach Vince Layson after the championship win. “There was a lot of doubt with the way we started the season. But these seniors showed strong leadership, and I’m so happy for them. They pulled us through. We finished strong and peaked at the right time. This is the sixth in a row, but this one is about as special as it gets.”

The Jackets (13-13) came out strong on Saturday night as they finished the first quarter on a 15-1 run to take a 19-9 lead going to the second. Bremen (12-16) responded, however as they got some big buckets and made 7-of-10 free throws to outscore Calhoun 16-10 in the second quarter to cut the Jackets’ lead to 29-25 as the teams headed into the locker room for halftime.

The Blue Devils continued the momentum after the break, scoring the first six points of the third quarter to take a lead briefly at 31-29, but Calhoun showed their championship pedigree by answering back with a 10-0 run to take a 39-31 lead in a stretch that had a huge impact on the final outcome.

The Jackets never trailed again after that. Bremen continued to fight and pulled within one at 41-40, but each time they made a run, Calhoun punched right back with crucial baskets and free throws. The Jackets took a 47-43 lead into the fourth quarter, and the two most experienced players on the roster took over from there as senior Porter Law and junior Davis Allen combined to score 14 of the team’s 16 points in the final period to ice the game. The pair combined to go 9-of-13 from the free throw line down the stretch.

“That’s the game of basketball, you’ve got to respond to the opponent’s run by going on a run of your own,” said Layson. “The second half went tit-for-tat for a while, and I didn’t think it was in hand at any point. But we grinded it out and made the plays when we needed them to get the win.

“Porter, you know what you’re going to get from him every night. Our whole team looks up to him, and he’s our leader. Even when he’s not scoring, he is controlling almost everything we do on the court, whether that’s getting us into the right offense or setting the tone on defense. I’m especially happy for him this week because he got some redemption after not being named to the All-Region Team last weekend. He came in here with a chip on his shoulder and played about as well as you can. Davis has been solid for us all year long, and we know we can always count on him. He hit some very big shots tonight and closed it out with some clutch free throws in the fourth.”

Allen scored 18 points total with 12 of those coming in the second half and eight in the fourth quarter, while Law added 11 points and hit six big free throws in the fourth. Xaxton Goodson was the Jackets’ leading scorer on the night as he had 18 points with nine coming in the first quarter to help his team stake their early lead.

“Xaxton has had an up and down type of year with him in the starting lineup at the beginning and then going through some struggles where he didn’t play a whole lot,” said Layson. “But even when he wasn’t playing, he was the ultimate teammate, and he just kept working and doing whatever he could in practice to get better. Once he got his chance to get back in the rotation, he has stepped up in a big way. I’m extremely happy for him. He puts a lot of work in, and we’ve seen the fruits of that lately, especially tonight.”

Chase Goble added seven points for Calhoun, and Tononcito Martha scored five.

Charlie Crafton scored a game-high 20 points for Bremen, including 11 in the third quarter as he almost singlehandedly kept his team in the game. His teammates Ben Barrow and John Dobbs each added eight apiece.

Law, one of three seniors on the team, said the team could’ve gone a totally different direction after the tough start to the season, but they knew that was simply not how Calhoun Boys Basketball does things.

“Coach Layson kept us composed all season,” said Law. “It would’ve been easy to quit and get down on ourselves when we were 1-9, but we kept pushing. Coach Layson kept telling us to work hard and improve, and we would have a chance to win another region title. We went into the region tournament confident and feeling like we could win it again, and that’s how we played all week. I’ve had a bunch of the guys that have graduated texting me this week and especially today saying we had to keep the streak going, and we did it. We didn’t want our team to be the one that broke that tradition of region titles.”

The Jackets will now head into the Class AAA State Tournament as the No. 1 seed from 6-AAA and host the No. 4 seed from Region 5-AAA Redan on Saturday with a time to be announced. They have been to the Elite Eight three out of the last four seasons and gone to the Final Four twice. Layson and Law said they were confident that this team could make another deep run.

“We’re looking to keep going,” said Layson. “We always have that next play, next game mentality. We are going to get focused on our next challenge, which will be Redan, and hopefully we will represent this program and this region well in State. Every team that is playing at this point of the season is quality so we have to be at the top of our game.”

“This is the exact way we played in the playoffs last year,” added Law. “We have all the confidence right now to make it happen again this year. I feel like if we play as well as we can, we can go deep into the tournament again.”