ELKHART – Jared Bloom was not about to let his high school basketball career end without a win in postseason play.
The Warsaw senior star willed his team to that win Tuesday night in dramatic fashion with another clutch performance.
Bloom, known for his game winning heroics all season long for there Tigers, calmly drained a free throw with one second left in the second overtime as Warsaw outlasted Elkhart Central 45-44 in the opening game of the Class 4-A Elkhart Sectional.
Bloom, aka “Mr. Big Shot”, scored a game-high 17 points as the Tigers topped the host Blue Blazers for the second time this season in North Side Gym. Warsaw beat Central 47-45 back on Jan. 8.
Rashaan Jackson also turned in a tremendous performance for the Tigers. The smooth sophomore netted a career-high 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Jackson entered the game averaging 4.7 points-per-game. He had a then career best 12 points in the win over Central last month.
Senior Taylor Cone scored nine points and senior John Swanson four for the Tigers.
Senior Blake Brouwer scored 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting, including 4-of-4 from deep, to pace Central. Senior guard Terrell Street had 10 points for the Blue Blazers, who finish at 6-15. Street, Central’s top scorer at 13.3 ppg., was just 4-of-13 from the field, including only 1-of-7 from distance.
Warsaw, thanks to its first sectional win since claiming the tourney title in 2010 en route to a state runner-up finish, improves to 11-10. The Tigers face sectional favorite Concord (19-1) Friday at 6 p.m. in the first semifinal game back at North Side Gym.
The second semifinal tilt Friday will have Goshen (14-7) versus Northridge (9-11). Goshen beat Elkhart Memorial 44-42 Tuesday night in the second first-round contest. The winners meet Saturday at 7:30 p.m. for the sectional championship and a spot in the Michigan City Regional March 9.
Concord defeated Warsaw 42-31 in a Northern Lakes Conference game Jan. 18 at Warsaw. Goshen topped Northridge 49-46 in NLC action Dec. 14 at Northridge.
Bloom hit the game winning free throw on a drive to the basket after Warsaw had taken a timeout with eight seconds to play. He got the first to bounce in and then missed the second intentionally. Central immediately called timeout. Central’s Tre Taylor then fired a long inbounds pass to Jaron Walters, whose long jumper falling away from the wing was well off the mark at the final horn.
Big shots by the calm, cool and collected Bloom are nothing new. The senior guard, Warsaw’s top scorer at 17.4 ppg., hit the game winning jumper versus Northridge at home in a 43-41 win Jan. 4 and a winning bucket at Fort Wayne Snider in a 52-50 victory Jan. 5 and the game winning free throw against South Bend Clay in a 55-54 win at home Feb. 12.
But, this one topped them all for the hard-working leader of the Tigers.
“This means a lot to me,” said Bloom in the Tiger locker room following the marathon contest. “This is my third year on varsity and my first sectional win. I couldn’t leave without one.
“My coaches trust me with the ball and my mentality is that every shot I take is going in. With eight seconds left, I just wanted to do what was the best thing for my team. I took what the defense gave me and was able to attack and get fouled.
“We’ve been in games like this all year and come out in a lot of them with a loss. But we were prepared for this situation and the thing about this team is that we compete to the end. We kept with it tonight and came out with the win.”
Warsaw rallied to the win after a miserable start in the opening period and then by overcoming an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force the first extra session.
“I’m just happy for our guys and proud of them,” said Warsaw coach Doug Ogle. “We were due to win a game like this. Our guys showed a lot of grit. It would have been easy for them to fold, but they hung in there and kept battling and fighting. We did enough to win.
“This is the fourth time this season Jared has made the game winning free throw or shot at the end or near the end of a game. I was happy we had the ball in our best player’s hands on that last possession. He did a good job attacking and they about had to foul him on that play.
“Rashaan Jackson was huge for us tonight. He hit a huge bank shot at the end of the first half to get us within four points at halftime. And Jared Stookey came up with a huge offensive rebound in that second overtime and then saved the possession by calling timeout. That was a huge play for us.”
Warsaw trailed 40-32 with 6:23 to play in regulation after Brouwer hit his fourth trey of the game. Ogle then took a smart timeout and the Tigers closed on a 10-0 run with Bloom scoring all his team’s points, including a gorgeous, rise up and knock down triple over his defender with 2:36 to play to give Warsaw a 42-40 lead. Street tied the game at 42-42 on a driving layup with 52 seconds to play, but missed the free throw after being fouled on the play. Stookey then missed a leaner with four seconds left and the game went to overtime.
Both teams chose to hold the ball in the first, four-minute overtime period. Warsaw took a minute off the clock before misfiring on a shot by Stookey. Central then held the ball until Street missed a jumper from the top of the key with three seconds to play. Warsaw turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds play with 0.2 seconds left. The Blue Blazer threw a perfect lob off their inbounds play under their own basket, but Brian Harter missed at point blank range to leave it deadlocked at 42-42.
Central took the lead at 44-42 with 3:21 to play in the second overtime period as John Stahl drove the lane and scored. The Tigers then missed a shot, but Central turned the ball over with 2:59 to play. Stookey then came up with a huge offensive rebound and called timeout while going out of bounds with 2:41 let. The Tigers tied it at 44-44 on an inside hoop by Jackson with 2:37 left. Central then turned the ball over again with 2:14 remaining, setting the stage for Warsaw to milk the clock down until Bloom provided his heroics.
“We were tired and I was okay with Central holding the ball too and not attacking us,” said Ogle of the stall ball tactics by both teams in the pair of overtimes. “They have a lot of quickness and athleticism and we couldn’t handle their pressure early. Once we settled down, we did better.”
Warsaw led 2-0 on a Bloom jumper just six seconds into the game. The Blue Blazers answered with a 12-0 run as the Tigers went scoreless for a 3:52 stretch. Warsaw closed the opening period with its own 6-0 run to pull within 12-8. Central led 24-16 with 1:42 left until half before Jackson hit a huge triple and then banked in a tough jumper at the final horn to cut the Blue Blazer lead to 25-21 at halftime. Jackson scored nine of Warsaw’s 13 points in the second quarter. Warsaw led 30-27 in the third period before Central closed with an 8-2 run to take a 35-32 advantage into the final stanza.
The Tigers shot 18-of-37 overall from the field, including 3-of-5 on 3-pointers. Warsaw was 6-of-8 from the free throw line and had 15 turnovers. Central finished 16-of-40 from the field, including 5-of-14 from distance. The hosts were 7-of-10 from the line and had 16 turnovers.
Central had a 24-23 rebounding advantage as Taylor and Brouwer each had five. Bloom and Stookey each had four caroms to lead Warsaw. Stookey also dished out a game-high six assists and led the Tigers with three steals.
Warsaw entered play Tuesday night having lost four of its final five regular-season games, including three of those by one point (including the finale at home to Fort Wayne Carroll 44-43 in overtime on Friday night).
The Tigers have now won 11 straight versus Central dating back to the 2003-04 season.