MIDDLEBURY – It wasn’t hard to tell which locker room was the winning one Saturday night at Northridge High School.
The happy sounds coming from a raucous Warsaw locker room told the tale.
The Tigers earned the right to have a noisy post game session after posting a huge 52-39 Northern Lakes Conference win over the host Raiders.
Warsaw, ranked No. 10 in Class 4-A, aced its first real road test of the season with flying colors to remain undefeated on the season.
A complete team effort, featuring balance on the offensive end and yet another dynamite defensive performance, put the Tigers also in the driver’s set in the race for NLC supremacy. Warsaw improved to 13-0 overall, but more importantly 3-0 in league play to sit atop the league standings as the lone unbeaten left in NLC action after Plymouth rallied to win 45-40 at Elkhart Memorial earlier Saturday.
Senior standouts Jennifer Walker-Crawford and Lindsay Baker scored 16 and 10 points respectively and junior Nikki Grose was outstanding with a monster double-double with 15 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Tigers.
Warsaw hit 24-of-36 free throws in the win to just 5-of-10 for the Raiders. The Tigers also only allowed 20 points through the first three quarters en route to beating Northridge for the fifth time in the last six meetings.
Seniors Haley Schrock scored 14 points and Madison Schrock 12 for the Class 4-A No. 12 Raiders, who rallied late with a barrage of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. Northridge, which has lost its last two, drops to 12-3 overall and 2-1 in the NLC.
“We had a great team effort tonight and that’s what you have to have to beat a team like Northridge,” said Warsaw coach Michelle Harter. “Yes we are in the driver’s seat now in the NLC, but our girls understand we have to continue to focus on one game at a time and play our game.”
Harter admitted she did know that Plymouth had upended Memorial prior to her game Saturday night to knock the defending league champion Crimson Chargers from the ranks of the NLC unbeatens.
“I did know that we had our own fate in our hands tonight as far as taking over first place in the NLC,” Harter said following the win. “But, I did tell our girls. I wanted them completely focused on this game.”
Warsaw showed its experience and poise late in this one. The Tigers, who never trailed, saw the Raiders rally in the final period to cut what was once a 16-point lead at 41-25 all the way down to six at 45-39 with 1:10 left on a trey by Brianne O’Dell. The hosts, who trailed 31-20 entering the final quarter, hit five 3-pointers in the last period to rally.
The Tigers answered the challenge from the line in the game’s final minute. Warsaw hit seven free throws in the final 54.5 seconds as Walker-Crawford drained 4-of-4, Grose hit two big ones and Melanie Holladay hit one.
“During a timeout I told the girls to play together as a team and weather the storm,” said Harter. “The girls did a good job getting their composure back after Northridge hit some big threes. The girls kept their poise when they made their run.
“We calmed down, were strong with the ball and stepped up and hit big free throws down the stretch.
“Our girls did a tremendous job the first 3 1/2 quarters finding their shooters. They did a great job playing team defense together. They moved with the flight of the ball in our zone and that’s one thing we really work on in practice.
“I thought our guards did an excellent job attacking and our posts players were excellent playing strong.”
The game for the first three quarters was as expected in terms of a defensive tussle. Warsaw was allowing just 34.8 points-per-game coming in, while the Raiders were giving up just 37.6. Neither had been tested often as Northridge’s average margin of victory was 22.2 ppg. and Warsaw’s 20.4.
Warsaw led 11-6 after the opening period and 21-13 at halftime. Baker scored six points and Grose five in the opening half. The Tigers stretched the lead to 31-20 after three periods.
Warsaw shot just 13-of-31 from the field, but the hosts were even colder at 13-of-39. The bigger and more physical Tigers had a commanding 32-21 rebounding edge. Walker-Crawford hit 8-of-9, Holladay 5-of-8, Grose 5-of-11 and Baker 4-of-6 to lead the parade to the line.
The free throw differential left Northridge coach Doug Springer in a foul mood.
“We didn’t deserve to win tonight, but your’e not going to win when the other team shoots 24-36 from the line and you are 5-10,” said Springer. “We attacked the basket tonight just like they did and there were no calls and that’s unfortunate.
“We played scared of them and that’s extremely disappointing. We’re extremely overrated. We were extremely scared, except for the fourth quarter. That’s the most disheartening thing with a veteran team.
“In the first three quarters, we caught it and stood against their zone. Our game plan was to aggressively attack them and we did in the fourth quarter and knocked some shots down.”
Holladay finished with nine points for the Tigers. Baker led the defense with four steals.
Northridge won the junior varsity contest 28-26. Kelly Miller scored 14 points and Alyssa Zook six to pace the Raiders. Erin Clemens led Warsaw with seven points. Jodie Carlson netted five and Vicki Harris and Megan Kratzsch each had four. The JV Tigers drop to 11-2 overall and 2-1 in conference play.
Warsaw (13-0, 3-0) hosts Fort Wayne Carroll Wednesday. Northridge (12-3, 2-1) plays at DeKalb Tuesday.