SYRACUSE – If you were not at the Wawasee-Tippecanoe Valley sectional game on Wednesday night, you missed out.
The two rivals met for the second time in five days and played a game that will certainly be remembered by both fan bases for years to come. The Vikings won a thrilling game, 46-44 in the first round of IHSAA Class 3A Sectional 21 Tournament at Wawasee High School.
Valley came in at 16-3 and the odds-on favorite to win the contest against a 4-16 Wawasee squad, but the Warriors had other plans.
Throughout the season, Wawasee had flashes of great play, but never seemed to put it all together in one game. It became clear early on that the Warriors had saved their best performance for when it mattered most.
Wawasee’s Jeffrey Moore gave his team a 3-0 lead early to help spark a 13-point first quarter for the Warriors. Moore’s three would be the first of five rainmakers for Wawasee in the first half. Valley kept trying to close the gap, but Wawasee stayed strong. A buzzer-beating toss-in at the end of the second quarter from Chase Myers gave the Warriors all of the momentum and a 26-17 lead going into the locker room.
The Warriors kept their swagger going through the third quarter behind a loud and spirited Warrior cheer block. The impressive performance by Wawasee was no doubt a team effort, but it was Gage Reinhard that kept the Warriors going all night.
Reinhard led the Warriors with 20 points and was a constant nuisance on the defensive side of the ball against a stout Viking offensive attack. Reinhard’s play was sign of good thing to come for the player, according to Warrior head coach Steve Wiktorowski.
“He did a great job tonight, both inside and outside on offense,” said Wiktorowski. “I really think he’s just scratched the surface of what he can be as a basketball player, especially offensively.”
Reinhard’s points total was outdone by only one player, Tanner Andrews. The Vikings senior was the main reason that the Vikings stayed in the game and ultimately won. Andrews had eight of the team’s 10 points in the first quarter, 12 at the half and finished with 22 on the night. Andrews was eight-of-ten from the free throw line. Valley’s Robby Groom (11 points) was the only other player to have a double-digit scoring output.
Mistakes were minimal by both teams as each team had seven turnovers for the game, though Valley scored 10 points off of Wawasee’s mishaps. Wawasee capitalized for just two points. Despite getting the win and saving the season for at least another day, Viking head coach Bill Patrick knew his team was lucky to escape on Wednesday night.
“We played very hard that last quarter,” said Patrick. “Really, Wawasee deserved to win that game. They outplayed us for three, maybe three and a half quarters. We just found a way to win. I think we are more athletic and we got them into trouble with our half-court trap. But, they (Wawasee) played really hard. We didn’t rebound well and did not get out to cover their three-point shooters.
“I think we are just a better team, talent-wise and we just found a way to win. But Wawasee is going to be a really good team next year. This sectional will get even tougher.”
Valley outscored the Warriors 18-8 in the fourth quarter and held off two game-winning shot attempts from the Warriors in the closing seconds. The game was perhaps the best Wawasee had played all year, making the end result even tougher to handle.
“We fought back harder tonight,” said Wiktorowski of his team’s performance. “When we played them Friday, we got pushed around a lot. We were too physically intimidated, but I think that was good because we were so much tougher tonight.
“I could not be anymore proud of this team than I am right now. I told the team that after the game. They did a tremendous job tonight. We had guys step up tonight and all season and it started with our seniors. Our seniors have been so unbelievable with supporting our young kids. We’ve got some good kids coming up next year and we are only losing two from this team. The kids are getting excited and buying into what we are doing and this off-season will be an exciting one for us.”
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Wawasee finishes its season with a 4-17 record. Valley will advance to play NorthWood on Friday night in a rematch of the 2013 sectional title game. The Panthers won the matchup earlier this season with a 58-43 victory over Valley in the Winning Edge Holiday Tournament at Rochester High School.
“NorthWood is really a good basketball team,” said Patrick.
The candid coach later added,”We kind of sarcastically said to the guys that they can just go ahead and look forward to Saturday night’s game since we won’t have any problem Friday night. That’s what they did here tonight, overlooked Wawasee and they almost paid for it. But our guys will show up and be ready to play.”
NorthWood defeated Lakeland 71-45 in the second game of Wednesday’s double-header. Friday’s game will tip at 6 p.m. at Wawasee High School.