WARSAW – It didn’t have the same feel as a scripted ‘Hoosiers’ ending, or the coziness of a central Indiana battle in a barn, or even Steve Hollar helping orchestrate a Hollywood ending. Mighty Milan, er Wawasee, tried to upset the big school Thursday night in Warsaw, and almost got ’em. But Jimmy Chitwood wasn’t wearing green and black and Warsaw wasn’t South Bend Central in a 47-43 girls basketball final in favor of the Lady Tigers at the Tiger Den.
What’s all the ‘Hoosiers’ references about in a make-up Northern Lakes Conference on a rainy weeknight in January? The game was to have been played just over a month ago at the Hoosiers Gym in Knightstown in a showcase event. Weather cancelled travel that Saturday afternoon, and the game was moved to Thursday. So no Jimmy Chitwood moment or a reenactment from Steve ‘Rade Butcher’ Hollar. Just a pair of basketball teams looking to build steam with the sectional less than two weeks away.
Wawasee, fresh off its upset win of Class 2-A No. 1 Whitko Tuesday night, was playing like a team that had no fear. The Lady Warriors trailed by seven on two occasions in the fourth quarter, only to rally all the way back to 45-43 after Aubrey Kuhn hit her third three-pointer of the night with just a couple ticks under a minute left.
Kuhn had a chance to tie the game on Wawasee’s next possession, but Warsaw’s Page Desenberg slid over in Kuhn’s path to the bucket and drew a charge. Madi Graham would head down to the other end and hit a pair of free throws to give the Lady Tigers a two-possession lead at 47-43, where the dream of another huge upset fell short.
Kuhn would score 12 points for the Lady Warriors, all in the second half.
“She was outstanding,” Wawasee head coach Matt Carpenter said of Kuhn. “This game means a lot to all those girls, but I know it means a lot to Aubrey Kuhn.
“That’s what came out in the second half, she was going to do whatever she could to keep fighting. To keep helping her teammates. To keep leading our team as a point guard out on the floor. Whether it’s offensively, to put other people in position, to look for her own shot. A fantastic game by Aubrey Kuhn.”
Hannah Haines would lead Wawasee with 14 points.
Warsaw, which wasn’t interested in Wawasee ruining the celebration of its six seniors in its final home game of the season, saw those six make huge contributions. Graham led Warsaw with 14 points and five rebounds, her bucket giving Warsaw it’s first seven-point bulge of the fourth at 40-33, part of a quick 7-2 Warsaw run early in the final stanza.
Dayton Groninger scored 13 points in her final game in the Tiger Den, also generating three rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. Groninger moved into eighth place all-time on Warsaw’s scoring list (947) and needs 16 more points to move up two spots to No. 6.
Kenzie Welk (six points, three rebounds), Desenberg (six points, four rebounds), Mariah Rivera (two steals, one assist) and Abby Glass, making her first start of the season, all concluded their final game at home.
“This group has been here on the varsity with me for three years,” said Warsaw head coach Michelle Harter. “Just a special group of ladies. I can’t say enough about their work ethic. They just epitomize what Lady Tiger Basketball is all about. They struggled last year and never gave up.
“We knew we had a brutal schedule, and I think that really helped us this year. They stepped out on the floor with confidence and they understood what it was we were trying to do. That says a lot about these girls in how they are going to be as adults. They aren’t going to let things set them back and continue to battle and fight. That is what athletics is all about, and learn to play for other people and not be selfish.
“Stick your nose out there and be happy when other people are successful. That’s what we’re seeing from these girls. They genuinely just enjoying playing with each other.”
Warsaw (17-3, 3-2 NLC) will forge on with conference road games at Concord Saturday and at NorthWood next Thursday to close out its regular season. Wawasee (8-11, 2-3 NLC) will visit Plymouth Saturday in conference, then host Tippecanoe Valley in a non-conference matchup Tuesday before finishing up next Thursday at Concord to conclude its NLC slate.
Both teams are looking for similar finishes.
“Down the stretch here, what we need to see is if you miss a shot, you go down and get a stop,” Harter said. “The girls did that tonight.”
Added Carpenter, “I like to go to battle with my girls, I think we have a nice veteran cast. I will go to battle with them all the time. We’ll continue to grow even as the season goes. We’ve got a week left, Plymouth, Tippy Valley, Concord still coming up plus a tough sectional draw. But we’re getting better. And these things and lessons we are learning and tough situations like this are only going to get better hopefully come sectional time.”
In the JV game, Halle Shipp had 14 points and Maddie Ryman scored 13 points to lead Warsaw to a 44-30 win over Wawasee. Sara Pritchard scored 10 points to lead the Lady Warriors.