WARSAW – The Warsaw boys basketball team has already pulled off one stunner in winning a sectional championship.
Can the Tigers add an even bigger shocker to their postseason resume come Saturday in the regional round of the Hoosier Hysteria?
The only certainty is that coach Doug Ogle’s team will go into a matchup versus powerful South Bend Adams at Michigan City on Saturday in a familiar tournament role.
The Tigers will be huge underdogs, just like they were in the sectional semifinal versus Concord last week, against the high-flying Eagles.
Warsaw (13-10) meets up with Adams (21-2) at 11 a.m. (EST) Saturday in the opening game of the Class 4-A Michigan City Regional. The second semifinal pits Munster (25-0) versus Merrillville (20-3).
The semifinal winners then return to City Saturday at 8:30 p.m. (EST) to play for the regional title. The champion will then play in the Class 4-A North Semistate March 16 at either Lafayette Jeff or Huntington North. The IHSAA will make semi state assignments on Sunday, March 10.
Ogle knows what his resilient team will be up against come Saturday.
“We’re going to have our hands full that’s for sure,” Ogle said. “I’m impressed with how Adams plays. They play really hard. They are really quick, strong and well balanced. They can really shoot the three too.”
“They are a fun team to watch. They press full court and their kids play really hard. You can see that on tape. Mark Barnhizar (the Elkhart Memorial coach) told me last summer that Adams would win a state title this year. I talked to him on Sunday and he still stands by that.
“I also talked to Al Rhodes (the former Warsaw coach currently at Penn) and he told me that Adams played at a state championship level Saturday night against his team in the sectional final.”
Warsaw edged host Elkhart Central 45-44 in double overtime and then outlasted heavy sectional favorite Concord 41-39 in triple overtime and beat Northridge 64-57 to claim the Elkhart Sectional title. The Tigers got a game winning free throw by star Jared Bloom with one second left to beat Central and then knocked off the Minutemen, who were 19-1, on a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Jordan Stookey. Bloom then erupted for a career-high 33 points in the title game win over the Raiders.
“We’re thrilled to be in this situation,” said Ogle. “It was an excruciating season and very frustrating at times with so many close losses. But, our players hung in there and believed and they are so resilient. It’s really gratifying now to be where we are. Maybe we’ve turned the corner and maybe we are better than our 13-10 record says we are. I know that Adams will show us where we’re at on Saturday.”
Warsaw beat Concord, who they had lost to at home by a 42-31 final on Jan. 18 during the regular season, by holding the ball and shortening the game. The coaching strategy by Ogle worked as the Minutemen opted not to change defense and speed up the sectional semifinal contest.
“I guarantee you that Adams will not let us hold the ball, even if we wanted to,” said Ogle. “But, we have to try and use the same formula we did in the sectional. We have to have a low possession game.
“The big key is that we have to handle the ball well against their pressure and control the tempo. We have to get the shot we want, rebound and keep our turnovers down. We have to be solid from the get go and keep the game within reach early against them.”
The Eagles are on a mission. Adams, which lost 73-70 to Elkhart Memorial in the regional final at City last year, wore “We’re Not Done” t-shirts on Saturday prior to their sectional final versus Penn. Adams then went out and crushed the Kingsmen 93-71 to avenge one of their two regular-season losses. Terry Davis had 25 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocked shot in the pounding of Penn, while stellar senior point guard Joe Beard poured in 25 points for the Eagles. Adams closed the game with a 14-0 run.
“The best thing about my team is it’s the most unselfish group of players,” said second-year Adams coach Milt Cooper. “We have no stars and nobody just looks for their own shot on this team. Nobody.
“Our team plays hard, just like Warsaw does. I know both teams will be motivated by enjoying the feeling of going further and further in the tournament. Warsaw has great tradition.”
Cooper, who formerly coached at South Bend Washington, broke out his best Lou Holtz impersonation when asked if the matchup with Warsaw is a mismatch.
“We’re not playing this game on paper and I know that Warsaw will come to play,” Cooper said. “A mismatch? Not at all. It’s why you keep score and why you play the game. I’m worried about how my team plays. I worry about every game we play.
“No. 3 (Bloom) is an excellent player for Warsaw. He could play for anyone. He’s just a top-notch basketball player.”
Cooper did say that his team, which averages 70 points-per-game, will not deviate at all from its normal game plan.
“We’re going to play the same way we always do,” said Cooper, who is 37-10 in his two seasons at Adams. “We’re going to press you when you get off the bus. That’s what we do to everyone we play.”
Adams beat host Mishawaka 45-42, South Bend Washington 56-47 and Penn 93-71 to claim its second straight sectional championship.
Bloom has had some senior season for the Tigers. The clutch guard averages 17.9 ppg. and has 47 treys. Stookey averages 9.4 ppg., while leading Warsaw in both assists (110) and steals (38). Senior John Swanson is at 8.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, while steady senior Taylor Cone averages 7.4 points and a team-high 5.5 rebounds per contest. Sophomore Rashaan Jackson, who had a key nine points in the sectional final, averages 5.5 ppg.
The Eagles boast balance and plenty of speed and outside shooting prowess. Davis, a 6-2 junior, leads Adams at 15.5 ppg. Juwan Johnson, a 6-1 senior, checks in at 14.1 ppg., while 5-8 junior Michael Bush is at 9.7 ppg. Beard, a 5-10 senior, averages 7.7, while 6-3 senior A.J. Glick (7.1) and 5-9 senior Jalen White (6.0) are other Eagles to watch.
Adams, whose two losses were to Penn and Noblesville, averages 70.2 ppg. as a team while allowing 57.3. Warsaw, on the other hand, averages 56.3 and allows 53.3. The Eagles have connected on 183 treys this season and have made 10 or more 3-pointers in nine games. Warsaw has made a total of 95 treys this year.
Adams and Merrillville were both in the Michigan City Regional in 2012. The Eagles beat Lake Central 76-72 before losing to Memorial 73-70. Memorial defeated Merrillville 81-63 in its semifinal game.
Adams was ranked No. 18 in the final IBCA poll of the season. Munster checked in at No. 1 and Merrillville at No. 17.
Warsaw has won 13 regional championships, the last coming in 2010, in its tradition-rich history. Adams lone regional title came in 1973 when the Eagles went on to finish as state runner-up to New Albany. Steve Austin, now the coach at Concord, was the second-leading scorer for that Eagles team as a senior. Adams, coached by Dave Hadaway, was led by Indiana All-Star Jim Webb.