WARSAW – Two old boys basketball foes, both hungry for a win, got together in the Tiger Den Thursday night.
It was Plymouth, in the end, who exited the hardwood on a happy note with a much-needed victory.
The Pilgrims came up with key plays late to hold off Warsaw 38-31 to quench their appetite for a victory in a Northern Lakes Conference contest.
Sophomore Josh Anders scored 11 points, including five in the final frame, to pace Plymouth. The Pilgrims, who had lost six of their last seven games, improve to 6-9 overall and 1-5 in league play.
Senior Jordan Stookey netted a game-high 16 points to lead the way for Warsaw.
The Tigers lost for the fifth straight time to drop to 9-8 overall and finish at 2-5 in NLC action.
Warsaw trailed just 31-28 after a baseline 3-pointer by Stookey with 4:40 to play. The hosts were hurt by critical turnovers late, including one that Anders turned into a layup with 4:09 to play to make it 34-28. Freshman Nick Felke hit two key free throws with 37 seconds to play to ice the win.
The Tigers, who were playing at home for the first time since Jan. 18, had four of their six turnovers in the fourth quarter. Warsaw also shot just 4-17 from 3-point range, including a combined 2-13 by Tim Swanson and Nate Pearl, two of the top long distance shooters on the team.
“The shots we got tonight were threes and Swanson is shooting 50 percent on the season and Pearl is in the forty some percent,” said Warsaw coach Doug Ogle. “We had 13 of our 17 threes taken by the guys we want shooting them. They just did not make them tonight.
“I don’t like being a 3-point shooting oriented team, but we had to take them tonight with Mercer (Plymouth 6-9 center Mack Mercer) inside. We don’t have as much inside scoring right now with our current situation and it was even harder for us tonight with Mercer in there.
“We just had too many empty possessions and turnovers late in the game. Down the stretch, there were too many turnovers. They just played better than we did. We did out rebound them and that’s a big step for us. We have three more games and about 12 practices to get ready for the sectional.”
Plymouth, coming off a win over New Prairie last Saturday, led 10-9 after the opening period Thursday night. The Pilgrims used an 8-0 run, keyed by treys from Reis Yoder and Nick Felke, to take an 18-11 lead in the second period. Plymouth led 21-15 at halftime.
The Tigers, whose last lead of the night was at 11-10, trailed 25-21 after three quarters. Stookey scored all six of his team’s points in the third stanza and had 10 of their 12 in the middle two frames.
“This is a great win for us,” said Plymouth coach Ryan Bales. “We’d been there before where we were in most of our NLC games in the fourth quarter. The guys are not hesitating now and are making plays. We had some nice execution late.
“We’re starting to figure it out the last couple of games and show a little more fight on the defensive end, which is what we should depend on. There’s a reason why No. 35 (Stookey) was on our board. He’s the head on their monster. He does a tremendous job finding open teammates. Their other kids had open shots tonight, but fortunately for us they did not make them.”
Mack Mercer, Plymouth’s 6-9 center, had six points and seven rebounds. The Bellmont University recruit is still trying to round back into form after missing substantial time due to an illness.
“Mack is the healthiest he’s been this season now and probably 85-90 percent,” Bales said. “He’s starting to get his legs and his wind. We just need his presence and his leadership. He’s been there before and is a calming influence for us.”
Junior Swanson had eight points for the Tigers. Junior Jake Mangas had three points and six rebounds and senior Pearl and sophomore Paul Marandet each scored two points.
Freshman Nick Felke finished with eight points for the Pilgrims. Senior Tom Felke and Mercer each had six and Yoder five.
Warsaw shot just 10-34 overall from the field and 7-8 at the line. Plymouth was 13-25 overall from the field, including 5-7 in the second half. The Pilgrims were 4-12 on three tries and 8-15 at the line.
The Tigers played for the fourth straight game without junior Rashaan Jackson, the team’s second-leading scorer. Jackson, along with Nick Sands, were suspended for violation of the school’s athletic code two weeks ago.
The game will be broadcast by WHME-TV (Channel 46) Friday night at 11 p.m. and again on Saturday at 9 p.m.
Warsaw won the junior varsity contest 45-33. Kyle Mangas had 14 points, Luke Wilson six and Xavier Lynch and Matt Anthony five each to lead the Tigers. Tyler Irwin netted 11 points and Matt Friar eight for Plymouth.
Plymouth plays at Penn Saturday afternoon. Warsaw welcomes in a strong Elkhart Christian team Tuesday night.