HOPE — The winter of 2012-13 isn’t one recalled fondly by the people in Hope.

A Hauser boys basketball program that had won back-to-back sectional titles lost its first 17 games and finished 1-20. There was nowhere to go but up.

The Jets began that upward climb last year, going 9-11. This year, they have clinched a winning season with a 12-10 record going into tonight’s first-round South Decatur Sectional matchup against Jac-Cen-Del.

“Definitely remembering that season two years ago is always a push factor to improve to work harder,” senior Rory Thayer said. “We were young. You can’t go back. You can only move forward and improve. You’re never out of it until you’re out.”

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Thayer and fellow senior Mason Ramsey were starters on that team two years ago. Senior Dalton McKinney also saw varsity action.

“It was young and inexperienced times, and we didn’t know how to pick ourselves up,” Ramsey said. “I feel like leadership was there, but it wasn’t showing. I feel like we should have been better than what we were.

“I feel like there’s always room for improvement, and improvement always brings greater things,” he said. “We’ve always had it in us to win.”

Hauser has done plenty of winning this season, although it got off to a slow start. After a season-opening win at Madison Shawe, the Jets dropped five in a row. But then they won 11 of their next 14 before dropping their final two games of the regular season last week.

“I feel like we could have done better, but heading into the sectional I feel confident,” Ramsey said.

“We’ve had some rough patches this season,” Thayer said. “We started off slower than what we’ve liked, but we’ve kicked in gear here the second part of the season, which as a team is what you look for heading into sectional time. You want to be playing the best basketball you can, and I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Veteran coach Bob Nobbe, who led the Jets to the Class A state title in 2006, credits his senior leadership for the turnaround.

“I think we have five strong leaders in our seniors,” Nobbe said. “They’re all leaders by example, and they all have good attitudes, and it’s helped our younger kids understand how to go to work on the basketball court and how to work hard to improve their skills.”

Although Hauser’s record isn’t as strong as Oldenburg Academy’s 17-5 or Jac-Cen-Del’s 15-7, the Jets could have as good a shot at anybody at coming away with the sectional title. Seven of their nine losses have come against Class 3A and 4A teams, including in Wednesday’s regular-season finale at Shelbyville.

“I think we’re playing well,” Nobbe said. “We’ve had a very good second half of the season and played against some good competition. Obviously, Shelbyville is a very strong ball club and a physical team, a good team to go against to see where we’re at here before we go into the tournament.

“We like our chances,” he said. “We’re excited to get the tournament underway.”

Hauser’s most recent win came Feb. 14, when it beat Jac-Cen-Del 83-77.

“Fortunately, we won that, but you can’t take any of those things into (tonight’s) game,” Nobbe said. “It’s going to be another dogfight, and hopefully, we do those fundamental things that we need to do well and keep ourselves in the game.”

The Eagles are led by 6-foot-7 Evan Borgman.

“Jac-Cen-Del is a good challenge,” Nobbe said. “They have a very strong player in Evan Borgman, and they have a nice nucleus of guys to go around them. They have some size, but they also have some shooters.”

If the Jets win tonight, they would play Oldenburg in Friday’s semifinals. The championship game is Saturday.

“I feel confident about it,” Ramsey said. “I think we have all the right assets to win.”

“We definitely are in a great position to do good things,” Thayer said. “We have size, we have speed, and I think what it comes down to is who wants it more. I think we have a group of guys that really want to do great things and really want that sectional.”

If you go

South Decatur Sectional

Today

6 p.m.: South Decatur (1-19) vs. Rising Sun (8-14)

7:30 p.m.: Hauser (12-10) vs. Jac-Cen-Del (15-7)

Friday

6 p.m.: South Decatur-Rising Sun winner vs. Madison Shawe (8-14)

7:30 p.m.: Hauser-Jac-Cen-Del winner vs. Oldenburg Academy (17-5)

Saturday

7:30 p.m.: Championship

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.