East Xtra: Penn Hills grad helps Edinboro go on tear

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It's not quite the senior season Darché Jackson anticipated.

A 5-foot-8 guard from Wilkinsburg, Jackson, after playing three years at Edinboro, was looking forward to getting off to a fast start in her final season with the Fighting Scots. Instead, she didn't get off to any start.

A sprained ankle to start the season left her on the bench watching for the first five games. Then, in her first game back -- in just the first eight minutes -- she sprained her other ankle and was again forced to miss another game.

"The hardest part was watching us lose and not being a part of it," Jackson said. "It's always good to see the team win but it's harder to see them lose and not be a part of it, especially after playing for four years. These were the first games I've missed."

A graduate of Penn Hills High School, Jackson was excited to return Dec. 17 against Bloomsburg after missing those first five games. But on her first trip down the court, she said, she tweaked her injured ankle while shooting a 3-pointer. Then, on the next play down the court while trying to jump up for a pass she landed on an opponent's foot and rolled her other ankle.

"Missing games made me realize that on any given night someone can step up," she said. "On any given night something big can happen to anybody. You can't take anything for granted.

"It made me realize my time is ending soon so I'm either going to be a part of it or miss it, so I need to get myself together. It made me see that I need to step up and be a team leader."

It's no coincidence that since Jackson's return to the lineup full time, the Fighting Scots have put together a nine-game winning streak and are unbeaten in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division at 8-0, 14-3 overall, heading into Saturday's PSAC matchup against Pitt-Johnstown.

Edinboro cracked the USA Today Sports Division II Top 25 Coaches' poll at No. 22 this week for the first time since last season.

"She brings the piece that's missing and it's even better because Darché is good at everything," Edinboro coach Stan Swank said. "In the Gannon game she had 22 points, in another game she had 12 assists. She is really basketball savvy and sees what's happening on the court.

"She kind of adjusts her game to help our team. If we need rebounding, she'll go get some rebounds. If we need scoring she'll find a way to go score. She's a senior and just brings all the intangibles that you need."

It was the Gannon game Jan. 18 that Jackson rose to the top.

Edinboro took on undefeated Gannon, which was ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II at the time. Jackson had 22 points on 9 of 14 shooting with five assists and three rebounds as the Fighting Scots pulled off a 75-72 win in overtime.

"Darché stepped up really big," Swank said. "We were able to exploit her a little bit and get her to the basket. She's pretty tough around the basket. I think we created some turnovers defensively, they had 22 turnovers. I think coming down the stretch we executed pretty well."

Not only did Jackson put in 22 points against Gannon, she also was a catalyst defensively as she limited Gannon's Brittany Batts, the Division II leader in 3-pointers made and 3-point field-goal percentage, to just 1 for 4 from the floor and three points.

For her efforts, Jackson was named the PSAC West women's basketball athlete of the week for the week ending Jan. 19.

"I live for games like that," Jackson said. "There's no way I was going to let us lose that game. I would have broken my foot again if I had to. I like competing. I don't like playing in games when we beat them by 20 or 30 points. I like close games when every possession matters."

Every game matters now for Jackson. Through 11 games played, Jackson is averaging 9.5 points per game, 3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and has 22 steals. She has scored in double figures in five of the past six games and is just 45 points away from 1,000 for her career at Edinboro.

Also for her career, Jackson is tied for 10th place with Andrea Martre with 340 assists and tied for 10th with Lori Montgomery with 222 steals ... numbers that are sure to increase as Jackson plays her final games at Edinboro.

"Right now I feel like I'm taking off a little bit," she said. "At first when I got back I was a little iffy because of my ankle. I really couldn't drive to the hoop, I couldn't jump like I wanted to. I was playing a little scared. Now I'm getting back into the swing of things."

Rick Davis: rdavis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3789.

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