SOUTH WHITLEY — You would be hard-pressed to find a team in the area with a harder start to its season than the Whitko boys basketball team. The Wildcats opened up with county rival and No. 11 ranked Columbia City at home Wednesday night. Led by Parker and Brachen Hazen, who respectively stand in at 6’7″ and 6’8″, the Eagles were able to muscle their way to a 69-51 victory.
“I was pretty pleased with our effort,” said Whitko head coach Roger Fleetwood. “You don’t like to lose, but that’s a really good basketball team, a really seasoned basketball team. It’s one thing to be a good basketball team, it’s another to have a lot of minutes under your belt and to have two division one, 6’8” kids on the other side that you don’t match up well with.
“But, I was just very proud of my kids tonight, they kept fighting the whole game. We did some good things, they just did a good job at taking things away from us.”
One thing that City did effectively throughout the night was take away options for the Wildcats on offense. Outside of sharp-shooting Nate Walpole, Whitko leans on River West for points, the Eagles were able to take West away for much of the game. The sophomore finished with seven points.
Without a strong offensive production, the Wildcats were in trouble because City was doing its best to score at will behind both Hazens who seemingly drew a foul every time they went inside. Parker finished the night with a team-high 26 points while Brachen had 21. The two also combined for three thunderous dunks.
Though the final score shows a runaway win for City, it was from that in the first half. Whitko played tough and held a few leads in the opening quarter and trailed just 14-10 going into the second. But, as good teams often do, the Eagles took advantage of a few mistakes from Whitko and went on a 20-7 run in the final five minutes of the half to hold a 40-21 lead at the break.
“We had two bloods and two foul troubles at the same time,” said Fleetwood of City’s second quarter run. “If you look back on that it’s when we had four guys come off the floor, three almost all at the same time. That’s when they (City) went on that run, which was the game. You take away that four minute run and they only outscored us by about four for the other 28 minutes.
“Two kids were bleeding some they had to come out and then we had two in foul trouble and that’s not what we wanted to happen. We needed that cohesiveness offensively that we lost in that four minutes.”
City opened up the third quarter on a 10-0 run to truly extinguish any thoughts of Whitko getting back into the game. Heading into the fourth it was a 58-35 Eagle advantage.
Walpole led all scorers with 30 points. Devon Adkins added six points for the home team.
Whitko stayed strong the entire game and that’s what stood out to Fleetwood. Playing a team like City early can only benefit the Wildcats down the road.
“Other than that four minutes in the second quarter, we played them pretty evenly,” Fleetwood continued. “For the rest of the game there wasn’t much difference between a ranked team and a team that nobody thinks is going to be very good, and they’re going all going to be very wrong by the end of the year.”
Whitko (0-1) will hot Wabash for a conference game on Dec. 4. Columbia City will host Warsaw Saturday night.
Columbia City won the JV contest 66-32 behind a 23-0 run in the first half.