WARSAW – Doug Ogle’s approach to the sectional for his Warsaw boys basketball team is a realistic and appropriate one.
“We have everything to gain and nothing to lose in the sectional,” said Ogle. “No one looks at us and expects us to win the sectional this year.”
The Tigers (10-9), whose last sectional title came in 2010, will compete in the Class 4-A Elkhart Central Sectional at North Side Gym. The host Blazers (5-14) will be the first test as the two teams will meet in game one Tuesday night, tip-off at 6 p.m.
The six-team field has one huge favorite in Concord and then balance throughout the other handful of teams.
“Concord is clearly the heavy, heavy favorite this year and rightfully so,” said Ogle. “As far as the rest of the field, I don’t know who you would peg after that. I don’t think you would be surprised who wins games involving the other five teams because all of us are about in the same boat.”
Concord, led by Ball-State bound Franko House, ran the table to win the Northern Lakes Conference title at 7-0. The Minutemen are 17-1 (with their lone loss to South Bend Clay in a game that House missed due to illness) with a nine-game winning streak going into their week of the season.
Warsaw has shown flashes of very good play this season, including in wins over Class 3-A powers Tippecanoe Valley and NorthWood, and then times of inconsistency in losing large leads. The Tigers fell to 10-9 late in the season by losing five of its last seven contests, including back-to-back one point losses to Elkhart Memorial and Plymouth. Both of those setbacks came after the Tigers lost double-digit leads in the second half, including a 15-point advantage in the fourth quarter of a loss at Plymouth.
“In some ways, we can be encouraged because we’ve been able to play well enough to build leads,” Ogle said. “We have the parts, especially offensively, to be a dangerous team.
“The confounding thing has been our inability to hold on to those leads. We have to figure out a way to do that. We have to reach a threshold of poise and confidence that allows us to win a close, high stakes game.
“The thing is that we’re not going to let those disappointing losses to Memorial and Plymouth define our season. We can be competitive and be a dangerous team in the sectional. We just need to play with more poise and handle defensive pressure better.”
The Tigers went 2-3 during the regular season versus the sectional field. Warsaw defeated Elkhart Central 47-45 and Northridge 43-41 and lost to Concord 42-31, Elkhart Memorial 48-47 and Goshen 56-51. Memorial won the sectional a year ago, beating Warsaw in a semi-final contest, and advanced to the semi-state. The Crimson Chargers, who are led by senior star and UIC recruit Markese McGuire, have been up and down this year after losing four starters from last year’s outstanding team.
Warsaw has been led all year by senior Jared Bloom. The 6-0 senior guard, who hit back-to-back game-winning shots versus Northridge and Fort Wayne Snider, was averaging almost 18 points-per-game prior to the final three regular season games. Bloom, who averaged six points-per-game as a junior, has improved tremendously according to his coach.
“Jared has improved tremendously his offensive skill set,” said Ogle, who guided Warsaw to a Class 4-A state runner-up finish in 2010. “The thing I appreciate is how humble Jared is and his commitment to his improvement. He’s a very likeable young man and a good teammate.”
The Tigers have also relied on the trio of 6-5 senior John Swanson (10 ppg.), 6-1 guard Jordan Stookey (9 ppg) and 6-2 senior Taylor Cone (7 ppg). Stookey suffered a wrist injury in the loss at Plymouth Feb. 7 and his status and effectiveness for the sectional will be a key for the Tigers. Cone has come on late in the season, giving his team a boost with his increased offensive output.
Warsaw will also need to get contributions from sophomore Rashaan Jackson, who was inserted in the starting lineup versus Plymouth, along with the likes of senior guard Jason Ferguson and junior guards Nate Pearl and Trae Furnivall.
The Tigers were to face three strong teams down the stretch in South Bend Cly, Fort Wayne Luers and Fort Wayne Carroll. A good thing in preparation for the sectional, according to Ogle.
“Regardless of the outcomes, I’d rather be playing good teams late in the season before the sectional,” said Ogle, who has won three sectional titles in this his 11th year as the head coach of the Tigers.
The key for the Tigers in postseason play will be their ability to take care of the basketball and play with poise and confidence with the game on the line.
“We just need to play with confidence and not be hesitant,” Ogle said. “This group is unusually resilient. We have hope because we have proven we can play good basketball.”