SYRACUSE – The Whitko boys basketball team’s 2013-14 season came to a close on Tuesday night in the opening game of the IHSAA Boys Basketball Class 3A Sectional 21 Tournament at Wawasee High School.
The Wildcats faced a very tough West Noble team and could not match the talent and efficiency of the Chargers. West Noble would end up winning in impressive fashion, 62-30.
The Chargers jumped to a 12-0 run to start the game and never had to look back. Whitko did not get on the scoreboard until the 2:08 mark of the first quarter with a pair of free throws from Nate Walpole. The first Wildcat field goal would come a few seconds later from Dylan Cumberland after the senior guard picked a West Noble player’s pocket and turned it into a nice layup. that score would be Whitko’s last of the quarter as they would trail 20-4 going into the second.
The struggles continued for Whitko in the second quarter. The Wildcats turned the ball over nine times in the first half, West Noble had a high turnover rate as well with eight. But it was not the number of turnovers that made the difference in the first half, it was what each team did with those opportunities.
Whitko produced just four points off of Charger turnovers while West Noble scored 14 points off of Whitko’s mistakes. That stat helped give West Noble a 32-10 advantage at halftime.
West Noble only had four turnovers in the second half, but the game total of 12 was what concerned Charger head coach Jim Best.
“Totally unacceptable,” Best said of his team’s turnovers. “I think we had eight in the first half an three or four of those were just bad passes, terrible passes. Whitko also had six offensive boards and that’s something we have been talking about. To compete with the rest of the teams in the sectional we have to control the backboards and limit the turnovers.”
The Chargers won the turnover battle and the battle on the boards and really made scoring a nightmare for the Wildcats. Whitko moved the ball well but very seldom to find a comfortable shot. When the Wildcats tried to drive inside, they were met with a physical Charger defender more often than not. West Noble accumulated five blocks during the contest.
When Whitko did find success offensively, the basket came from its top two scorers, Cumberland and Walpole. Both players came into the Tuesday night averaging 14 points per game. Walpole finished with eight points while Cumberland tallied 10 in what would be his final game as a Wildcat. Fellow seniors Danny Zawlocki (four points) and Seth Patrick (three points) added to the stat sheet in their final contest. Freshman Kyle Whelpley added four points for Whitko while sophomore Roger Helbig scored one for the Wildcats before leaving the game with a knee injury.
Despite being in a deep hole for virtually the entire game, the Wildcats never gave in or gave up. A trait that Whitko head coach Scott Wessel admires in his players.
“They’ve done what we have asked all year,” said Wessel of his team. “They’re good kids, they fight. That’s what they do. They’re going to fight to the end in every game, they’ve done it all year. That’s how they are and that’s good.”
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Whitko (1-20) had a lot of lows in 2013-14 and will lose five players to graduation. But Wessel has already talked with the underclassmen about what it will take to improve next season.
“They’re going to have to work,” Wessel said. “We’ve already talked about it with some of our younger guys this year. If they don’t want to go through something like this again, they’ve going to have to work.
“We can’t just show up and think we’re going to be 15-5, you’ve got to work at it more than that. You have to work on it in the off-season. You have to work on skills and getting shots up. You have to work on all those little things that I don’t think we quite understand yet. Until we understand those thing, we’ll continue to struggle.
“But, we’ve talked to them and I think we’re having some kids buy into what we’re trying to do. As that continues to happen then we’ll continue to get better every year.”
West Noble (17-5) will play Fairfield (12-8) on Friday at 6 p.m. The Falcons handed West Noble their first loss of the season back on January 31 in a thrilling 62-59 Northeast Corner Conference contest at Fairfield High School.