SYRACUSE — In what has become a season of attrition for Whitko, Tuesday night became another painful reminder of what has already been a tough girls basketball season.
Hanging with Wawasee for three quarters, the gas ran out of Whitko’s tank while KiLee Knafel’s motor just started to hum in a 45-26 victory for the Lady Warriors at the Hardwood Teepee.
Neither team were all that interested in each other’s plights coming into the night. Whitko were stuck in a four-game slide as well as dealing with a MASH Unit Alan Alda would be proud of while Wawasee were winless since late November and on the short end of eight straight. Something had to give.
The X-Factor was obvious, which was Whitko enlisting Josie Sparks to faceguard, hound and agitate Knafel everywhere she went. And for three quarters, advantage Sparks as Knafel had just seven points and very limited time with possession of the ball. In the fourth, however, the 24 consecutive minutes Sparks spent chasing Knafel finally took its toll. A three from the Wawasee sharpshooter, followed by one more from the wing, gave the Lady Warriors a 37-26 lead.
A pair of defensive plays from Knafel resulting in a block and steal resulted in four Wawasee points. Whitko, all the while, managed just two points in the first seven minutes of the fourth while Knafel rolled up 12 of her game-high 19 points. The inability to keep tabs on the Wawasee superstar was noticed on both sides.
“Josie was exhausted, she did everything she could for the time she was in there,” Whitko head coach Brandon Bradley said. “She was effective. Unfortunately, our help in the fourth quarter broke down. In the second half, our help wasn’t nearly as good as it was in the first half.”
Added Wawasee head coach Kem Zolman, “People are going to come out and play us like that. They have done it all year. We just had the other girls do their thing. We had seven girls score tonight.
“KiLee was just as tickled to death as anybody. She got her points, and we got the win. That’s the thing we are trying to hit home with. Hopefully this is proof for us.”
To be fair to the struggling Lady Wildcats, the injury bug has taken a huge bite out of the roster. Already missing starter Bailee Juillerat and now Kelly Reiff, who was lost Saturday for the year, the total sum of broken parts could make up an ‘Operation’ board game: two ankles, a knee cap, wrist and ACL to go with three concussions and a case of mono. Even three players in Cagney Craig, Jordan Hall and Maddie Gawthrop are all dealing with stress fractures.
“We just have a lot of younger kids that have to mature a lot quicker now,” Bradley said. “We are running out of starters. Running out of juniors and seniors. We are down to one junior with the three seniors.
“That’s where the younger kids have the opportunity to demand playing time.”
Wawasee had held just a two-possession lead late in the third quarter. The tide seemed to turn when Wawasee dropped the ball inside to Ashlynn Fisher on a pair of possessions, which turned into a layup and a foul, both right in the face of Jordan Hall who dwarfed Fisher by at least eight inches. Hall hit the bench with three fouls, and Wawasee took a three possession lead into the fourth quarter.
“Ashlynn’s role really kept (Craig) in front of her, and did a really good job with her footwork, and then got rewarded on the offensive end,” Zolman said. “Your tail works off on the defensive end, and hopefully you get the payoff on the offensive end.”
Kylee Rostochak added eight points and Elizabeth Jackson six points for the Lady Warriors, now 7-8 on the season. Whitko (5-12) had eight points from Craig and five from Sparks. Hall scored just four points, all in the first quarter. Melanie Kelsey, who had averaged 12 points coming in, managed just one three-point field goal.
“It’s a relief, you work so hard at getting the kids wanting to see progress,” said Zolman of breaking the losing streak. “When you are going with such a young team, we see progress, it’s just we don’t see it on the floor. Maybe because of the competition, maybe it’s the high-level stuff you are going against.
“Winning takes care of a lot of stuff. It helped us tonight to see that they did progress, and they were able to see that.”
Whitko’s JV opened the evening with a 25-17 victory.