MISHAWAKA — Simply put, the Whitko girls basketball team took one on the chin Saturday night.
The No. 1 ranked team in Class 2-A traveled to take on Class 4-A No. 9 and defending state champion Penn at The Palace and were promptly put in their place by a young but, ever improving Kingsmen squad. Penn kept Whitko out of sort all night and earned a 60-38 victory.
“We’re not going to sit here and make excuses, we got beat,” explained Whitko head coach Brandon Bradley. “If you want to look at a handful of reasons here or there, you can talk about playing an emotional rivalry game last night and then turning around to drive an hour and a half and play up here.
“But, we knew that going in. That’s why I scheduled this game, that’s why I asked for this game. They (Penn) are a very talented team. They’re young, but they’ve had plenty of success in the past and they’re going to have more in the future. We wanted a nice test to see where we really are, to expose our weaknesses, so we can go back on film and watch those things and get better.”
Penn did its best to make the Wildcats feel uncomfortable from the start. The Kingsmen went up 5-0 in its first three possessions. Whitko responded with its first points, a bucket from Briana Cumberland, but things just went south after that.
Aly Reiff found herself on the bench with two fouls while there was still 4:51 left in the first quarter. Her absence was more than noticeable as the Wildcats struggled to even find open looks against Penn’s defensive efforts. Penn led 16-5 after the first and made that 30-17 advantage by the half. Reiff was held to two points in the first half and scored 10 in the game, tied for the team lead with Hanna Yohe.
Reiff hit a big three to start the third for Whitko, but the senior once again found herself on the sideline after picking up her fourth foul with just under five minutes to play in the third. Reiff was struggling as much as the rest of her team when on the floor, but that was more of a compliment of Penn’s defense. The Kingsmen were dominating the paint and forcing turnovers seemingly at will.
“To me, as a coach, we run the same things,” Bradley said when asked about how the game changes with Reiff on the bench. “But to them, as players, they see somebody they lean on a lot. When she’s not on the floor, when she’s not able to be on the floor, then we get sped up too much mentally.
“We’d give up a run and then calm down and then we’d run four, five, six good possessions and then get sped up again. That’s something that we’re really going to look at. It’s part of our growth and maturity.”
Bradley did notice a change in how his team responded to being outperformed on the court this year as opposed to last year.
“In a similar situation last season, we probably would have given up with our effort,” said the coach. “Tonight we didn’t do that. We continued to battle.
“Our two primary goals, all along, have been to win conference and sectional. Tonight’s game doesn’t effect either of those goals.”
Sara Doi led all scorers with 20 points for Penn.
Whitko (10-1) plays at West Noble Tuesday night.
Penn won the JV contest 46-32.