ALBION — Perhaps the fourth time will be the charm for the Whitko girls basketball team. The Wildcats punched a ticket to their fourth-straight sectional title game with a 62-41 victory over LaVille in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 2-A Sectional 35 Tournament at Central Noble High School.
Whitko wasted no time in jumping all over the Lancers as the Wildcats started off on an 11-0 run. By the end of the first, LaVille had started to get a rhythm of its own, but Whitko led 16-8. A back-and-forth second quarter kept things tight as the ‘Cats carried a 37-27 lead into the locker room.
Just as the Lancers were slow to start the first half, they came out sluggish in the third before finding a rhythm. This led to Whitko earning another smooth start and an extension of the lead. Whitko outscored LaVille 15-10 in the third and led 52-27 going into the fourth.
“This was LaVille’s first sectional game,” Whitko head coach Brandon Bradley began. “We had nerves on Tuesday, as did every team that played this week. So, I think there was little bit of that working, but they settled in and got their offense working and we were just sloppy at times, especially in that second quarter.
“I felt like we were resting a little bit defensively. Give them (LaVille) credit, they are extremely patient. We talked before the game about how they’ll run 20, 30, 40-second possessions. You can’t guard for 10 and be happy with it, you have to guard throughout. I feel like a lot of the times that they scored in the half-court because they got to 15 or 20 seconds, or longer, and we broke down. That’s something we talked about before the game, after the game and something that we’ll continue to address as long as I’m coaching.”
While LaVille offered a balanced offensive attack with Aryn Eash (13 points), Mallory Vernon (13) and Lindsey Aschenbrenner (11), the slow starts allowed Whitko to stay in control. It also did not hurt that Aly Reiff was on her game.
Reiff scored a game-high 31 points, her fourth game this season totaling 31 or more. The effort also put Reiff over the 1,700-point threshold for her career.
Brianna Cumberland added 13 points for the Wildcats in the winning effort.
Whitko (21-4) advances to take on Central Noble (24-2) in Saturday night’s championship tilt at 7 p.m. The Cougars were 60-44 winners over Bremen in Friday’s second semifinal. Earlier this season Whitko outlasted Central Noble 62-54.
“Between today and tomorrow we have to be a better version of ourselves,” Bradley said. “We have to watch a little bit of this next game and figure out who we’re playing and tomorrow’s game will come down to their personnel. We have to mentally prepare for whichever grouping of personnel we’ll have to play against.”
The Wildcats have been cut short of winning their first sectional title in the title game each of the past three seasons. Whitko is ready to hold some hardware this season.
“There always has to be (nerves), just because of the magnitude of the game” Bradley admitted. “And the fact that we’ve been handed that stupid runners-up ball for three straight years. We want to get through and past that.”