WARSAW – A first half to forget turned into a third quarter to remember for the Warsaw girls basketball team Friday night.
The Tigers turned up the defensive pressure to shake off a slow start in racing past rival Tippecanoe Valley 39-26 in a non-conference tussle.
Warsaw, which improved to 3-0 with its third straight home win, outscored the Vikings 20-3 in the pivotal period. The Tigers were tied 11-11 at intermission, before its pressure defense ignited a 14-0 run to open the second half.
“The big key we talked about at halftime was coming out in the third quarter and putting pressure on them in the correct way,” said Warsaw coach Michelle Harter. “We wanted to keep the pressure on them and be in the right spots and trap. The girls came out and executed.”
Valley, which drops to 1-1, had 12 of its 29 turnovers in the third quarter. Junior post player Nikki Grose scored six of her game-high 12 points in the deciding stanza for Warsaw, while junior guard Eryn Leek and senior guard Melanie Holladay hit big, back-to-back treys to help fuel the scoring surge.
“They hit some shots in the third quarter and were able to get in their press and that was key,” said Valley coach Chris Kindig. “We got out of sync there and had some turnovers.”
Valley, which lost to Warsaw for the sixth straight time, opened the game by taking a 7-0 lead. The Tigers, who missed a handful of layups in the opening period, finally scored with just 35.6 seconds left on a free throw by Brooklyn Harrison.
Warsaw used a 7-0 run during a span of nearly six minutes in the first and second stanzas to forge the deadlock at intermission. Valley went scoreless in that key 5:56 stretch in the opening half.
“If you would have told me before the game that we would only allow 11 points in the first half I would have been ecstatic,” Kindig said. “I thought we outplayed them in the first half. I thought we should have been up 6-8 points at halftime. We had some shots go in and out and we missed some layups.”
Warsaw opened the final period with an 8-0 run to build its largest lead at 39-14. The Vikings closed the contest with a 12-0 run of their own.
The Tigers got strong contributions from several players with leading scorers Jennifer Walker-Crawford and Lindsay Baker struggling to make shots. The senior pair, who were averaging 19 and 13 points-per-game respectively, managed to score just four points each as they combined to shoot 3-of-18 from the field. Walker-Crawford signed this week to play at Kentucky Wesleyan College, an NCAA Division II program, while Baker inked her letter-of-intent to play at Toledo University.
Grose had 12 points and 15 rebounds, while Harrison scored seven to give the Tigers a boost. Holladay added five points, while Leek led her team with four assists.
“We preach we are a team and not individuals,” said Harter. “You have to have someone else step up when your top scorers struggle like tonight. We had that. Melanie and Eryn each hit a big three and Brooklyn came in and gave us a lift on defense.
“Everyone has to contribute and do their job. It’s the little things we have to have. We have to play as a team and that’s what we did in the second half tonight.
“We’ve got things to learn from tonight. We came out very lackadaisical again, like we did Tuesday night against Luers. We missed four layups to start the game and that just kills your momentum.”
Taylor Trippiedi scored eight points and Cara Hoffman seven to lead Valley. The Vikings graduated their top two scorers from last year’s 15-6 squad, including Staci Groom, who averaged 22 points-per-game.
“Our goal tonight was to hold them under 40 points,” said Kindig, whose team opened its season with a 64-47 win at Bremen Nov. 8. “Our defense did a good job to hold Baker and Walker-Crawford to just eight points total. In spurts, we did some pretty good things tonight. It’s a learning process for us. This is a completely different team than last year.”
Both teams struggled to put the ball in the bucket. Valley finished 10-of-44 from the field for just under 23 percent. The Tigers were just slightly better at 16-of-56 shooting for 28 percent.
Erin Clemens scored 15 points as the Warsaw junior varsity team also ran its record to 3-0 by beating Valley 27-9. Megan Kratzsch added five points for the Tigers. Karis Tucker and Casey Dunn each had four points to pace the Vikings.
Warsaw (3-0) plays at Whitko Friday. Valley (1-1) hosts its own Thanksgiving Tournament Nov. 24. The Vikings play Munster at 10:30 a.m., followed by Knox versus Noblesville. The consolation game is set for 6:15 p.m. with the championship contest to follow.