SOUTH WHITLEY – With a straight face and plenty of seriousness in his voice, Whitko girls basketball head coach Brandon Bradley sat in his office after his team’s 57-29 drubbing of Manchester Friday night mulling pros and cons.
Bradley was not happy with his team’s defensive effort, one that saw his club force 27 Manchester turnovers. He didn’t like his team’s execution on offense up 20-plus points in the third quarter. And he wasn’t thrilled with shot selection, even as his club made layup after layup.
“It’s hard not to confuse steals with good defense,” Bradley said. “Our rotations were slow, we were reacting to them. They got a lot of rhythm jumpers, they just didn’t go in. They did later in the game. But, I don’t think our defense was great and the girls wouldn’t say it was either.”
Bradley’s remarks weren’t made in jest. The coach was happy to get a Three Rivers Conference win, moving to 3-0, in front of what he noted as a ‘great crowd’ that showed plenty of vocal support. Bradley, however, is trying to see the bigger picture, which has his club playing at least three state-ranked clubs in the next month.
“I told my team with 5:19 to go in the game, ‘I know you are tired, I know you are hurting, just finish the game’,” Bradley stated about a timeout situation. “’Just get after it and get through it. You’ll have the rest of the weekend to rest.’ I just wanted to see them finish better, knowing what we have coming up.”
As for the action on the court, what was a sloppy first quarter had Whitko take an 11-5 lead, to which the game never got any closer. Whitko rattled off 12 of the game’s next 14 points, holding Manchester to just one field goal made the first seven-and-a-half minutes of the second quarter. The damage in the second quarter, in spite of Bradley’s notations, were predicated on Whitko’s instincts on defense. The Wildcats opened the quarter with three straight steals. After its sixth of the quarter, Jen Reiff converted a layup to make it 19-5.
Reiff scored 12 of her 20 points in the first half, and scored almost all of the points in the paint. Aly Reiff didn’t light the gym on fire like she is capable of doing, but would finish with a game-high 22 points, coming to life in the second half, scoring 13 of those points.
Brianna Cumberland had a quiet shooting night for Whitko, scoring just five points, but was among the many to chip in defensively. Hanna Yohe and Emily Day each finished with four points for the Wildcats.
Manchester (4-7, 1-2 TRC) had Tiffany Johnson lead its offense with 10 points and Cierra Carter wound up with seven points. The Squires will keep it in conference next Friday at Southwood.
Whitko will put its lofty 9-1 record and Class 2-A No. 6 ranking to the test in the coming weeks. Following a home game Tuesday against West Noble, Whitko will then see 3-A No. 8 Tippecanoe Valley Saturday in Akron, followed by the Greenfield-Central tournament that has a loaded field including 4-A No. 7 Westfield and a Louisville Eastern squad regarded as one of the top teams in Kentucky. Returning from winter break, Whitko opens with 2-A No. 1 Rochester in a TRC make-or-break matchup then a non-conference showdown at 3-A No. 5 Norwell.
“This could be one of the toughest stretches this program has seen in a long time,” Bradley said. “There is no break in who we play, starting Tuesday with West Noble. I think what we have coming up will really tell us what kind of team we have, who we are, and how well we need to play heading into the sectional.”
In the JV contest, Manchester made it interesting late, but Whitko’s Suzi Sickafoose came up with two steals late and iced the game with free throws to give the Wildcats a 34-29 win. Sickafoose scored 15 points and Emalee Duggins chipped in eight points. Manchester had Erika Kendall finish with 12 points and Kennedy Fierstos end with five points.