SOUTH WHITLEY – Sectionals? You want to talk about sectionals?
Yes, it’s that time of year again in Indiana. The brackets are set and sectionals are set to begin. From Fort Branch to Fort Wayne teams all over the state are looking at sectionals as a chance to show how much they have improved from the season’s first game.
One team that has improved leaps and bounds from the beginning of the year is the Whitko Wildcats.
Whtiko started the season losing its first four games by an average of nearly 25 points per game. Since that time the Wildcats have only won five games but have decreased their average margin of defeat to just 12.5 points per game.
The Wildcats, who are 5-14, highlight thus far has been the showing in conference play. Whitko finished fifth with a record of 3-4 in the Three Rivers Conference, which was top-heavy with good teams this season. Whitko has also won three of its last five games heading into the regular-season finale at NorthWood (13-6) on Friday night.
Coach Scott Wessel’s team has made noticeable improvements throughout the season and they have managed to do it all with solid team play.
“We don’t have one standout scorer,” said the first-year Whitko coach. “We have several guys that we get our points from. Gabe Powell is our leading scorer right now with 11.6 points per game and Trey Weber is giving us 10 points per game.”
Right behind Weber is Stephen Bennet who adds just over nine points per game. The man dishing out all the passes is Dylan Cumberland. Cumberland, a senior, leads the Three Rivers Conference with six assists per game. One key to tournament success on any level is solid point guard play, the Wildcats certainly seem to have that going for them.
But if Cumberland and the Wildcats want to have any tournament success, they will have to dish out more than assists. Whitko will need to serve up some revenge in the first round in order to make any noise in the Norwell Sectional.
The Wildcats drew a first round match-up with Bellmont in the Class 3-A tourney at Norwell. The Braves beat Whitko in a defensive struggle 32-19 on Dec. 1 in Decatur. Since that time, Bellmont has only won three games and sits at 4-14.
The issue that night for the Wildcats was obviously a lack of offensive production. Wessel said what Bellmont did to them back in December should not work so well this time around.
“The first time we played Bellmont, we really struggled to score against their 2-3 zone. Over the course of the season our zone offense and read have gotten much better,” stated the coach.
If the Wildcats can get through that first game, they would play a struggling Heritage (8-12) squad in the semifinals on Friday. The class of the sectional is the host team, Norwell. The Knights are two-time defending sectional champions and are the only team with a winning record, boasting a 13-5 mark, in the Sectional 23 bracket.
Luckily for Whitko, Norwell was seeded on the opposite side of the bracket. The two teams met earlier in the season and Norwell ran away with a 65-37 victory in South Whitley. If the two teams advance and meet in the sectional title game, it would be a rematch of last year’s sectional championship in which the Knights also reigned supreme, 78-48.
But the focus for Whitko is clearly not a rematch for Norwell, just yet. The Wildcats look to send Bellmont packing in Tuesday’s opening round game.
So, what should Whitko fans hope to see in the rematch?
The same thing Wessel expects to see. “I expect to see a better result than the first match-up we had,” he concluded.
The Braves and Wildcats tip-off Tuesday at approximately 7:30 p.m. at Norwell High School. Their first-round contest follows the sectional opener at 6 p.m. between Eastbrook (7-11) and Norwell (13-5).