SYRACUSE – It had to be one happy bus ride home Friday night for the Elkhart Memorial boys basketball team.
It also had to be another night of soul-searching on the other side for the Wawasee Warriors.
The Crimson Chargers rode a red-hot start to race past the Warriors 70-53 in a Northern Lakes Conference clash.
Memorial found its shot from start to finish in snapping a nine-game losing streak. The Chargers, who improve to 3-10 overall and 1-2 in the NLC, had not won since beating crosstown rival Elkhart Central by a 59-56 count back on Dec. 4.
Wawasee, which suffered its seventh straight loss, drops to 1-10 overall and 0-3 in league play. The Warrior program has now dropped 31 in a row in NLC action since beating Northridge at the end of 2010-11 conference slate.
The ability to hit some shots early proved to be the perfect tonic for the Chargers Friday night.
Memorial got a 3-pointer by junior Joe Smith on its opening possession after taking almost a minute off the clock against the Wawasee zone defense. The Chargers then forced a pair of quick Wawasee turnovers en route to a quick 10-0 lead. The Chargers, who came into play Friday night averaging just 52 points-per-game, led 22-8 after the opening period as senior A.J. Gary scored nine points and Smith added six.
Memorial, which has struggled with its shooting all season, hit 28-52 shots from the field Friday night. The ability to put the ball in the bucket enabled the Chargers to use their quickness advantage to press the Warriors.
“No I don’t think that we could have scripted a better start to the game for us,” said second-year Memorial coach Kyle Sears. “We were very patient at the beginning against their zone and our guys executed our gameplan tonight.
“It was a big positive for us to make shots. That allows us to get into things that we like to do (press). Things that we have wanted to do all year. We had been shooting 34 percent and we come out tonight and shoot 54 percent. That’s big for us. I think it’s a real key for these guys to get off to a quick start like we did tonight.”
The Chargers, who beat Wawasee 64-44 last season, built their lead to 31-12 midway through the second period thanks to their pressure defense. The Warriors, who started four sophomores Friday night, responded with an 11-0 run sparked by senior Chase Rookstool to pull within 31-23. Memorial led 34-25 at halftime.
The Warriors rallied to get within 40-35 on a bucket by sophomore Dalton Pearish late in the third period. Memorial had the answer with an 8-0 run to end the period as freshman Hank Smith scored a three-point play on a drive and a free throw and senior Jon Bailey capped the quarter with a trey.
Wawasee would get no closer than 10 points in the final frame. Gary scored nine points as Memorial outscored the hosts 22-18 in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been on a skid, but our guys have kept battling and did again tonight,” Sears remarked. “We got key runs when we needed them when Wawasee cut into our lead. We got a lot of good penetration later in the game because we were patient early on. That was a big key for us.”
Wawasee head coach Steve Wiktorowski had not emerged from his team’s locker room a half hour after the end of the game.
Warrior assistant coach Ed Waltz offered his thoughts on the contest.
“We got off to a slow start,” said Waltz. “We went with four sophomores and a senior tonight because they had been our strongest zone group in practice this week. Memorial just knocked down shots tonight. It seems like everyone we play shoots the ball well.
“We knew they were quicker than we were. Once they were able to get the lead and pull us out of the zone and we had to play them man-to-man it was tough.”
Bailey finished with 20 points to lead Memorial. Gary added 17 points for the winners. The 70 points scored by Memorial was its second highest total of the season. The Chargers had 76 in a 76-43 win at Elkhart Christian Academy on Dec. 1.
Rookstool led the Warriors with 17 points. Pearish and junior Tyler Smith each finished with 10 points for Wawasee. Sophomore Trevon Colman added six points. Wawasee shot 20-53 from the field and 12-20 from the line in the loss.
Wawasee had a huge fourth quarter to win the junior varsity game 47-39. The Warriors outscored Memorial 24-6 in the final period, including hitting four straight 3-pointers to start the quarter. Brian Collins had 14 points and John Kennedy 12 as Wawasee improved to 9-2. Trey Galliope and Jose Soto each scored nine points to lead Memorial, which led 33-23 after the third quarter.
Wawasee plays at NLC foe Plymouth next Friday night. Memorial hosts Hobart on Saturday night.