PLYMOUTH – The Warsaw boys basketball team lost in heartbreaking fashion for the second time in the last seven days Thursday night.
This time, though, the Tigers may have lost much more than just a game.
Warsaw saw a 15-point lead vanish in the fourth quarter in being stunned 57-56 by host Plymouth in the Northern Lakes Conference finale.
The Tigers, who lost 48-47 to NLC foe Elkhart Memorial at home last Friday night, also saw Jordan Stookey injured in the tough loss. The junior guard, who ranks third on the team in scoring at just under 10 points-per-game, left the game with 3:01 to play after injuring his right wrist on a hard fall to the court on a drive to the basket. He returned to the bench after having the wrist wrapped and was headed to the hospital right after the game for X-rays.
Warsaw, to add insult to injury, also had a game winning layup attempt by John Swanson blocked away on what appeared to be goaltending by Plymouth 6-9 center Mack Mercer just before the final horn sounded. There was no call on the play that happened in transition after Jared Bloom weaved through traffic and delivered a perfect pass to the 6-5 Swanson.
Mercer led the Class 3-A No. 9 Pilgrims with 23 points, while David Lee scored 15 and Joe Knapp 13. Plymouth, winners of their last four, improves to 15-3 overall and finishes 4-3 in conference play.
Swanson scored 16 points and Bloom and Stookey each had 11 for Warsaw, which drops to 9-8 overall and wraps up NLC action at 3-4.
The Tigers, who led Memorial by 14 points in the third quarter, built a 49-34 lead on a Swanson layup with 6:24 left Thursday night. Plymouth, turning to full court defensive pressure, then closed the game with a 23-7 run to escape with the win. Warsaw had eight of its 14 turnovers in the final period in being outscored 24-9. Lee, who scored 15 points, put in the deciding bucket with 12.2 seconds left for the Pilgrims.
“I feel bad for our guys because we played well enough in a lot of ways to win tonight,” said Warsaw coach Doug Ogle. “We had a lot of good effort and played pretty well for a lot of the game.
“We just had too many turnovers in the fourth quarter that they scored off of. We didn’t do a good enough job of taking care of the ball. Our ball handling and decision making under pressure has hurt us this year and it showed up in the fourth quarter again tonight.
“We’re disappointed, but I told our guys not to be discouraged. We’re on the cusp if we can just become a little more poised.
“I’d like to see that last play on tape. I felt like it was goaltending. Bloom made a nice play to get the ball to John.”
Warsaw used an unconventional 15-0 run to close the third quarter to take what seemed like a safe 47-22 lead. The Tigers trailed 33-32 with 4:33 remaining in the stanza after Mercer drilled a 3-pointer. Warsaw then showed off its outside game with five straight treys, two each by Stookey and Rashaan Jackson and one from Bloom, for their 15-0 run.
The Pilgrims, whose three losses are to NorthWood, Concord and Northridge all in overtime, battled back in the final period behind the 1-2 punch of Knapp and Lee. Knapp scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and Lee netted seven. Knapp hit two free throws with 1:21 to play to give the hosts a 55-54 lead. The Tigers retook the lead with 29 seconds left at 56-55 on an acrobatic tip-in by Taylor Cone.
Warsaw, which lost to Plymouth 54-45 a year ago, came out strong to lead 16-10 after the first quarter. Mercer, a lanky left-hander who averages 21.2 ppg., scored 11 points in the second frame as Plymouth rallied to a 28-26 lead at intermission.
The Tigers lost despite shooting 22-of-39 from the field, including 7-of-11 from 3-point range. Plymouth, which shot 23-of-44 (but just 4-of-16 from deep), had a huge 23-11 edge in points off turnovers to tip the game in their favor.
Sophomore Jackson, who was inserted into the starting lineup Thursday night, had eight points. Cone scored six and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
A fitting tribute occurred at halftime of the varsity game Thursday night. Former Plymouth girls basketball coach Dave Cox was honored with the NLC’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Cox retired from coaching as the program’s all-time winningest coach after the 2011-12 season after spending 20 years as the PHS girls coach. He went 308-152 with four NLC titles, a state runner-up finish in 2001 and a Class 3-A state championship in 2008.
Plymouth won the junior varsity contest 35-30. Nick Sands scored a game-high 14 points and Peyton Long netted five to lead Warsaw.
Warsaw hosts South Bend Clay and Plymouth plays at Culver Academy Tuesday night.