WARSAW – The charity stripe, in the spirit of the season, made all the difference in the world for the Warsaw girls basketball team Saturday night.
The Tigers were fine from the free throw line in holding off pesky Plymouth 51-41 in the Northern Lakes Conference opener for both teams.
Host Warsaw hit an outstanding 19-of-23 free throws in the win, while the Pilgrims finished just 7-of-8 from the stripe.
Senior star Lindsay Baker had a strong all-around performance and junior Nikki Grose a huge second half as the Tigers remained undefeated on the season. Baker popped in a game-high 17 points, while Grose tallied 16 points (14 in the second half) and grabbed 11 rebounds as Warsaw topped the Class 3-A No. 10 Pilgrims.
Warsaw, which beat Plymouth for the fourth straight time, improves to 6-0 overall and 1-0 in the NLC. Plymouth drops its second consecutive game to fall to 6-2 and 0-1.
Baker, who was 6-of-6 from the line, and Grose, who went 6-of-7 from the stripe, provided the big plays at clutch moments for the Tigers. The two sparked an 8-0 run to close the third quarter after Plymouth had cut a 13-point halftime deficit down to five. Baker hit a huge 3-pointer and then Grose scored five straight points to give Warsaw a 33-20 lead. The pair combined to score all 11 third-period points for the hosts.
The Tigers iced the win from the line in the final period. Warsaw hit 10-of-12 in the fourth quarter, including 5-of-6 by Grose. The six-foot post player scored nine points in the last stanza. After Plymouth got within 44-39 on a trey by Haley Harrell with 55 seconds left, Baker calmly swished a pair of free throws through and then Grose hit 3-of-4 to put the game away.
Baker, who has signed to play at Toledo, also had two rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and three steals. The Indiana All-Star hopeful was strong all-around with Charlie Hall, former Kokomo coach and All-Star game director, looking on from the stands. Grose had two blocked shots and a pair of steals in her stat line.
“People look at her points, but Lindsay does so much more for us than just her scoring,” said Warsaw coach Michelle Harter. “It’s the little things that are not in the stat book. She’s a leader out there. She plays defense. She just does a tremendous job for us.
“We know Nikki has this in her. This is what she’s capable of. She stepped up big for us tonight. We need that inside game from her to open it up for our outside game.
“Free throws were huge tonight. One of our goals is to get to the line and make more than our opponents attempt. The girls did a nice job tonight attacking the basket and also going up strong on the inside. They got to the line and then they stepped up and hit them. Nikki made some big ones late in the game.
“I like how we weathered the storm. Plymouth is a great team and we knew they would battle back. An NLC championship is what we’re looking for this season and it’s a great conference and wide open. You have to come to play every night and you do have to take care of your home court. We did that tonight.”
Warsaw, which beat Plymouth 47-30 last year, never trailed. The Tigers led 7-0 en route to a 14-4 lead after the first quarter. Baker scored nine points and Plymouth was an ice cold 3-of-15 from the field in the first half as Warsaw built a 22-9 lead at intermission. The Pilgrims opened the second half with a 6-0 run to get within 22-15 before Baker came up big again with a 3-pointer at the 3:46 mark to push the Tiger lead back into double digits. Plymouth, which trailed 33-20 at the end of three, hit five treys in a 21-point final frame.
“We came out with defensive intensity to start the game and did a great job in our press and in finding them in the half court,” Harter said. “Plymouth plays great defense and I thought we were patient and got good looks in the first half. In the second half, we came out a little flat to start. I thought then we picked it up on defense and that got us going again.”
Plymouth, under first-year head coach Dave Duncan, entered the contest only allowing 32.1 points-per-game. The 51 points scored by the Tigers were the second most allowed by the Pilgrims this season, who lost 55-45 to South Bend Washington Monday.
Harrell led Plymouth with 12 points, including six in the final quarter. Hunter Stevens scored 11 points and was the lone Plymouth player to go the foul line, where she hit 7-of-8.
The Warsaw junior varsity team, coached by Mindy Stookey, remained undefeated with a 35-14 victory.
Warsaw hosts Columbia City and Plymouth plays at John Glenn in non-conference action Tuesday night.