SYRACUSE – After starting its voyage off with a bang on Tuesday night, Tippecanoe Valley cruised into a semi-final match-up with Lakeland Friday night. Though the Vikings ship took on some water early, the team held off an upset-minded Lakers squad to win 63-53 at the Wawasee Boys Basketball Sectional.
In a game that many thought would be anything but a struggle for the No. 13-ranked team in Class 3-A, Valley was given a fight from Lakeland from start to finish. But throughout the hard-fought game, the Vikings were able to find and make open shots, keeping Lakeland from closing the gap.
While Lakeland played a conservative and well-executed game plan, the defensive play from the Vikings forced the Lakers into taking bad shots at critical points in the game. A back and forth first quarter gave Valley a small wake up call, but Lakeland refused to go away as the Vikings would take a very slim 32-27 lead into the locker room.
One reason Lakeland managed to hang around for the entire game was its success on the boards. If the media has learned anything from Viking head coach Bill Patrick in post game interviews this season, it is that rebounding will make or break your game.
“We’re not rebounding real well right now,” stated Patrick. “We have to play better than we did tonight if we want to win tomorrow. We just did not play that well tonight.”
Patrick certainly knew what he was talking about. Lakeland crashed the boards throughout the game and finished with 23 rebounds on the night, besting Valley’s 21 boards. The rebounding effort for the Lakers came from Daemyn Preistley. The junior had seven rebounds on the night but was virtually invisible on offense, scoring just two points. Lakeland centered its offense on Spencer Mortola who led his team with 24 points. But even with the explosive game from Mortola and the edge in rebounding, Lakeland failed to make a difference at one point on the court, literally.
Lakeland shot just 55 percent from the free throw line on the night, going just 6-14 in the second half. Valley took advantage of its charity tosses going 11-14 on the night. With just a 10-point margin of defeat, the missed opportunities at the line could have made a difference for the underdog Lakers.
Of course, the Lakers were also not able to contain Valley’s Nick Kindig. The senior remains to put on a show in his farewell season scoring 25 points and dishing out six assists Friday night. Kindig led all players in both categories.
Vallley struggled to shake Lakeland in the second half but clutch play from Tanner Andrews would prove to be too much for the Lakers to handle late in the game. Andrews tallied 10 points in the second half, seven coming in the fourth quarter, to finish with 12 on the night. The Viking big man also managed to pull down five rebounds in the second half to give him nine for the game. With Friday’s stat line, Andrews now has 28 points and 19 rebounds in sectional play. The Vikings (19-3) may have had a bumpy ride, but they advance to the sectional championship to face an all too familiar foe.
The NorthWood Panthers will be the team standing in the way of Valley’s championship hopes. NorthWood (16-6) advanced to the title game by beating West Noble 59-40 on Tuesday night and crushing Fairfield 71-41 in Friday’s first semi-final game.
The Panthers are looking for a little revenge as Valley handed NorthWood its first loss of the season, 59-53, back in December. There is no secret as to what Patrick sees as the key to winning Saturday’s title game.
“Rebounding. We have to rebound better. That and making sure we can guard their big kids inside and still get out on the shooters,” Patrick stated bluntly.
As for NorthWood’s head coach Aaron Wolfe, he is happy to say that his team is enjoying the ride.
“I just want the guys to know that I am proud of them. They’ve earned the right to play on this stage,” Wolfe said with a smile.
Wolfe would finish by emphasizing the importance and meaning of Saturday’s game, “If you grow up in Indiana, you know this is special. An opportunity to play in the sectional championship is a memory that lasts a lifetime. So, we are going to go out and have fun.”
Perhaps the most fun will be had by the fans in attendance. The title game will feature the sectional’s two most explosive teams with some of the areas best players. NorthWood brings its high flying offense to do battle against Valley’s stifling defense. The fun begins at 7:30 p.m. at Wawasee High School.