SYRACUSE – It was an extraordinary night at Wawasee High School on Friday night.
The Warriors welcomed in their toughest opponent of the year in Northern Lakes Conference foe NorthWood and went toe-to-toe with the No. 9 team in class 3-A for four quarters in front of a wild and raucous crowd. While NorthWood narrowly escape Wawasee’s upset bid, 52-44, the Warrior faithful had more than enough to cheer about.
Wawasee High School and the Kosciusko Youth Leadership Academy teamed up on Friday night to raise funds for Kosciusko County Special Olympics. The Warriors wore shirts in support of the fundraising event for pregame warmups. Fans in attendance could also buy shirts with proceeds going to the cause. Raffle tickets were also sold with prizes up for grabs from local businesses. As great as it was for fans in attendance to help support the local Special Olympics organization with the raffles and donations, the highlight of the night still came on the hardwood.
At halftime, Special Olympics athletes took the floor for a quick game of five-on-five. The student sections stayed standing and cheered on the 10 fierce competitors that ran the court for the next four minutes.
On a night that is usually reserved for competitive trash-talk between two rival schools, this past Friday night was different. Bragging rights took a backseat to the joy and excitement seen on the faces of those competitors at halftime. It was a rare occasion where every fan in attendance left feeling like a winner, even if their team did not come out on top. Congratulations to Wawasee students Courtney Linnemeier, Jada Antonides and Justin Ciriello who coordinated all of Friday’s events that seemed to go perfectly.
Amidst all of the fundraising going on in the Hardwood Tee Pee, fans were also treated to an outstanding game between the Panthers and Warriors.
In a game that very few people gave Wawasee a chance of winning, the Warriors played possibly their best game of the season. NorthWood got into foul trouble early and was kept on its heels by the Warrior defense all night. Wawasee pick-pocketed the Panthers for nine steals, forced 14 turnovers and NorthWood’s final tally of 52 was the lowest for the Panthers all season. The defense was there for the Warriors, but the offense was not.
Wawasee failed to hit a field goal in the first quarter and shot just 21-percent from the floor in the first half. NorthWood held a slim 23-18 lead going into the locker room. Both squads struggled to find the basket in the third frame but both found their offensive rhythms in the fourth quarter.While Wawasee did score 20 points in the fourth quarter, the Warriros shot just 33-percent from the field in the second half and were a disappointing 2-19 from long range in the game.
Zach Zurcher picked it up in the second half for the Panthers, scoring 14 points in the third and fourth quarters to finish as the game’s leading scorer with 25 points. Alex Clark led Wawasee on the stat sheet with 17 points even though the junior missed part of the fourth quarter due to an apparent leg injury. Clark did return to action late in the quarter.
NorthWood head coach Aaron Wolfe knows his team did not play its best game on Friday night and hopes they can learn from this rough outing.
“We just never found our rhythm,” started Wolfe. “We were out of sync most of the night and committed too many fouls. This is a game we have to learn from and at this point in the season, we just need to be concerned about fixing our own problems and not worry about what the other team is doing.”
Being so close to such a big win has to be a bittersweet feeling for Wawasee head coach Steve Wiktorowski, but seeing the huge improvement from last week’s loss against Columbia City to this weeks near Earth-shaking upset is obviously a huge positive for his young team.
“I was really happy with our overall defensive effort,” Wiktorowski started. “We had good production from all of our kids and we played 12 total tonight, so that was good to see. On offense, I was happy to see that we were at least getting to the line and attacking their (NorthWood) big guys inside.
“I told them this morning that no matter what happened tonight, I was so pleased with how they prepared for this game. They came into practice focused, hungry and enthusiastic. That’s really important for us. We have to keep that energy going in practice for this to be a turning point in our season.”
Wawasee (1-8, 0-2) will look to end a 16-game losing skid in the NLC when it hosts Elkhart Memorial on Friday night while NorthWood (8-0, 2-0) will host Northridge. Both games are set to start at 7:30 p.m.
Stephon Miller led Wawasee with nine points in the junior varsity contest but it was NorthWood that was victorious, claiming a 42-29 victory.