SYRACUSE – What started as a tight contest between two sectional foes ended as a blowout victory for the home team.
Whitko set up camp in Warrior territory Saturday night but Wawasee made sure the Wildcats never got too comfortable at the Hardwood Teepee. The Warriors used a big second half to claim their fifth win of the season, 62-39.
The Wildcats, who came in without a win this season, certainly never played like the underdog in the opening half. Whitko used a variety of scorers to outscore the Warriors 14-11 in the first quarter. Devon Adkins had a big three and led the team with five points in that opening quarter for Whitko.
Wawasee remained frustrated by Whitko in the second quarter, but the Warriors were able to regain the lead, though they never gained separation. A buzzer-beating lay-up from Garrett Smiley brought Whitko within one, 24-23, at the break. After that, however, it was all down hill for the visitors.
“Wawasee upped the ante and the pressure in the second half,” began Whitko head coach Roger Fleetwood. “The bottom line is that they’re more athletic than us and a better team than us. It doesn’t help that this was our fourth game in eight days. We looked tired in that second half. We spent a lot of energy just to play with them in the first half.”
The Warriors looked like they saved of their energy specifically for the third quarter as they outscored Whitko 20-2 in the frame. Whitko’s lone points were off of free throws from Nate Walpole.
Stori Bright was the story of the third quarter for the Warriors. Bright had 10 of the team’s 20 points in the third and seemed to be in on every rebound. The senior helped create second chances for his team on offense and stopped Whitko’s flow when he got back on defense. Bright finished with a double-double for the Warriors, 14 points and 10 rebounds. Gage Reinhard led all scorers with 15 points, seven of which came in the third.
While Wawasee won big, there were still some areas of concern for the Warriors, mainly turnovers. Wawasee forced 15 Whitko turnovers, but had 12 of its own. Wawasee head coach Steve Wiktorowski voiced after the game that the team had some defensive breakdowns and made too many mistakes on offense in the first half.
Still, the home team remained stout overall defensively, something that has become synonymous with Wawasee basketball so far this season.
“I thought we were tough to play against on the defensive end,” Wiktorowski stated. “We just had an excellent second half effort. We made adjustments at the half and we came out more focused and with a better energy.”
Tanner Gaff and Nate Walpole were the only Wildcats to score in double digits, respectively scoring 12 points and 10 points.
Whitko (0-5) will have a few days to rest after its rough stretch as the Wildcats will travel to Tippecanoe Valley Friday night. Wawasee will host Warsaw in a big Northern Lakes Conference opener, also on Friday night. Wawasee has not beaten Warsaw since December of 2006.
“Getting past the name on the jersey is a big part of that game,” Wiktorowski said about the upcoming Warsaw game. “The second part is going to be handling their defensive pressure, they’ve hurt people with their press this year. Then we also have to get continued production from our bench. We can’t rely on one or two people for all of our scoring.”
Wawasee is now 4-0 at home this season and 3-0 on a current four-game home stand.
Wawasee squeaked out a win in the junior varsity contest, 42-40 over Whitko. Colin Craig led Whitko with 14 points, Garrett Titus added another 10 for the Wildcats. Wawasee was led by Aaron Beer’s 16 points. Cayden Wegener and Tim Conley both had nine points for Wawasee as well.