By Kurt Ritzman
Assistant Sports Editor
Erie senior Jacob Johnston wasn't ready for his basketball season to end.
He scored 89 points in two postseason games to give the Cardinals a regional title.
"I didn't want it to be over," Johnston said. "I had the hot hand, so I kept taking shots. I just did what I had to do to help the team win."
Johnston — who Erie coach Winckler said could score any way he wanted to — averaged just under 24 points a game for the season, but 26.5 after Christmas.
Johnston was chosen as the Three Rivers Athletic Conference MVP and the Clinton Herald's All-Area Player of the Year.
“The biggest thing to me was the maturity he showed,” Winckler said. “Whether things were going well or poorly, he stayed even-keeled, and he always played hard. Without him, we would not have won 19 games and we wouldn’t have been regional champs.”
Johnston's scoring jump came after he missed a game and a half with a back injury.
"That was really hard," he said of missing that game time. "It made me realize there wasn't much time left. I had to play every game like it was my last and win as much as I could."
In Erie's last three wins, Johnston scored 37, 49 and 40 points.
"It was nothing too special," Johnston said of the 49-point game specifically. "I didn't feel like I had that much. I went to the free-throw line a lot. If I had any advantage, I was going to take it to the hoop, or if I was open I was going to take the shot. It was working, so I wasn't going to stop."
Winckler was more impressed with both the 49-point game and the three-game stretch where Johnston scored 126 points.
"He was absolutely incredible," Winckler said. "He can see the entire floor well, and he took advantage of that."
Johnston said those games where he scored a lot did feel different.
"My shot feels different," he said. "In games where you shoot really well, every shot feels good when it leaves your hand. Once I'm in the game and all warmed up, that's when I start to feel it."
After last season, Johnston knew he needed to take on a larger role as a senior. Last year, Johnston was often Erie's second option behind Jordan Schaller, now at Black Hawk College.
"I knew what I was going to have to do this year; with Jordan graduating, I had to pick it up more," Johnston said. "I worked hard all offseason. I think I got quite a bit better."
Heading into the season, an injury to point guard Zack Maloney made Johnston expand his role even more.
"It was tough when we found out Zack was going to miss most of the season," Johnston said. "Coach told me to work on my ballhandling to help with that if we were struggling without Zack.
"I see myself as an all-around player. I just wanted to do anything it took to win."
Johnston, who earned a slot on the all-state second team, averaged 8.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.2 blocked shots a game.
Erie closed its season with a bang after a a rocky start, winning the regional title, which was at the top of Johnston's list of goals.
"We lost games that could have gone either way — four or five games we lost went to overtime," Johnston said. "If we won them, we would have a lot better record, but I'm pretty happy with our season. I'd rather do poorly at the beginning and role at the end of the season."