NAPPANEE – When the Whitko girls basketball team last played West Noble, the Lady Wildcats won an exciting game that was decided by just two points, 64-62, in mid-December.
The two teams met again Tuesday night with the season on the line this time in the opening game of the Class 3-A NorthWood Sectional.
Whitko and West Noble again put on a show but this time it took an extra frame as the Lady Wildcats outlasted West Noble 49-46 in overtime.
“I knew from the minute that we drew West Noble that it was going to be a war,” said Whitko head coach Brandon Bradley. “That’s just how they play, and you could really say that about any of these teams in our sectional. They (West Noble) come out as hard as they possibly can, they just get after it.”
It was hard to say that Whitko matched the intensity of West Noble in the first half after the Lady Wildcats turned the ball over a handful of times in the first quarter. Despite the sloppy play that seemed so prevalent in the first half, Whitko still managed to cling to a 25-24 lead at the half.
When asked about the play from his team in the first half, Bradley said he and his staff talked to the girls about what went wrong.
“We asked the girls plain and simple about what was wrong,” Bradley said. “We wanted to know if it was nerves or fatigue from playing three game at the end of last week. Almost in unison the girls said ‘nerves.’
“We have very little tournament experience on this team, a lot of these girls did not get sectional experience last season, and when you start two freshmen and sophomore, you’ll have that.”
Those two freshmen were excellent for the Lady Wildcats on Tuesday night. Brianna Cumberland quietly scored 11 points for Whitko while fellow freshmen Aly Reiff led the Lady Wildcats with 17 points.
But it was the efforts of the senior class that made all the difference for Whitko.
Senior Jordan Hall pulled down 15 boards to lead all players and give Whitko its presence inside while Kelly Reiff may have saved her senior season with one shot.
In the closing second of the third quarter, Reiff launched a long three-point shot and drained it. Though Reiff’s release looked like it came after the buzzer, the shot counted. Without those three points, Whitko would not have been knotted up at 45 with West Noble at the end regulation and the Lady Wildcats season would have been cut short.
Fortunately for Whitko, Reiff’s shot was good and the Lady Wildcats did enough in overtime to clinch the win.
“The difference in the game was that third quarter buzzer-beater that they counted,” a relieved Bradley stated. “If we don’t have that, we don’t get to overtime. That’s how much we win by. That’s a big shot from Kelly. I’m thrilled she got it to the rim, we tease her all the time about her upper body strength so that was really great that she hit that shot.”
The hard-fought game advances Whitko (15-6) to Friday’s semi-final against Lakeland (9-11). Bradley says it’s just the next part of his team’s journey.
“We’re here to win a sectional,” said Bradley. “Tonight we completed the first of three steps. Friday night we go for step two.”
The game will tip at 6 p.m. at NorthWood High School with the second semifinal to follow.
Wednesday night at NorthWood four more teams will put their seasons on the line. Tippecanoe Valley (12-6) tips against Fairfield (15-6) at 6 p.m. with Wawasee (2-16) v. NorthWood (16-5) to follow at approximately 7:30 p.m.