SOUTH WHITLEY – Originally scheduled for last Saturday night, the boys basketball game between Wawasee and Whitko was one of many postponed due to bad weather and icy roads. Both teams took the court on Tuesday night at Whitko High School in hopes of getting a big win before starting conference play.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, it was the Warriors that would claim victory for the first time this season. Wawasee used a big first quarter to propel itself to a 48-36 victory over the Wildcats.
The Warriors, now 1-5, proved that extra time off was just what it needed in the game’s opening quarter. Wawasee opened the game with a 13-2 run and would carry an 18-9 lead into the second quarter.
The Warriors as a team hit five of their eight attempts from behind the arc and were 11-15 from overall from the field in the first half, But it was not the accurate shooting from Wawasee that did Whitko in, according to Wildcat head coach Scott Wessel.
“We talked about it before the game,” started Wessel, now in his second year as head coach. “The game came down to turnovers and rebounds. In that first quarter we had seven turnovers and were down 17-6. We gave up 12 offensive rebounds, that killed us too. Turnovers and rebounds is what it came down to. Also, we didn’t shoot very well tonight either, and that helped them out.”
Wessel hit the nail on the head for the most part. While Wawasee had nine rebounds in the first half to Whitko’s seven, the Wildcats only had one offensive board. Wawasee had five offensive boards and tallied nine points on second chance attempts. Whitko only turned the ball over twice in the second quarter, but had nine in the half.
With all the things going wrong for Whitko, the Wildcats only trailed 29-21 going into the locker room.
Wawasee quickly shut down any momentum for Whitko in the third quarter by playing perhaps its best quarter of the year to date. Wawasee’s offense heated up by scoring 14 points and defensively the Warriors were stout by allowing just four points. With a 43-25 lead going into the fourth, the game seemed all but over thanks to great play on both ends of the court from Wawasee.
“I was scared we would come in tight,” said Wawasee head coach Steve Wiktorowski. “We have struggled a little shooting the ball but we started well, I thought that was key. I thought we did well with out press early, we hit a few shots and I thought that relaxed us. The thing I really liked about this win was that Whitko made a run at us in both halves and we withstood it both times.”
Whitko’s second run came in the fourth quarter after Wawasee’s leading scorer, Alex Clark, left the game with a thigh injury. Wawasee became more vulnerable without Clark on the court but Stori Bright filled the void offensively. The junior scored six points in the closing minutes and would end up leading the Warriors with 12 points and six rebounds to help seal the team’s first victory.
“Huge, this is huge,” said Wiktorowski. “The kids have been working really hard, I’ve been proud of them and to come in and get this win on the road is great.”
Even though Whitko’s Nate Walpole led all scorers with 16 points, there was just not enough offense to go around for the Wildcats on Tuesday night. But Wessel knows the team is asking a lot of the young player and is hoping his team can clean up its turnover problem before its next game.
“Nate is doing a great job,” said Wessel, whose team drops to 1-4. “He has been thrown into the first a little bit. He is doing a nice job, we are really counting on him to score for us this year. That’s an unfortunate situation for him to be in as a freshman but we are where we are and he is doing a nice job.”
Both teams look ahead to rivalry games on Friday night as Wessel and the Wildcats will host Bill Patrick and Tippecanoe Valley in the Three Rivers Conference opener for both teams. Wiktorowski and Wawasee will travel to Warsaw for the Northern Lakes Conference opener to take on Doug Ogle’s Tigers. Both games are set to tip-off at 7:45 p.m.
In the junior varsity game the Warriors were led to a 44-21 victory over the Wildcats by Parker Hatfield’s 16 points. Kyle Whelpley led Whitko with 10 points.