WARSAW – There’s no denying that the Warsaw boys basketball team has been tested this season.
A trait that should serve the Tigers well as they head into postseason play starting Wednesday night.
Warsaw will begin defense of its sectional title versus conference foe Northridge in the opening round of the Class 4-A Elkhart Central Sectional. The Tigers will take a 14-9 mark into the second game Wednesday at approximately 7:45 p.m. versus the Raiders at North Side Gym.
Warsaw, who has played a top 10-ranked schedule, goes into sectional action on a three-game losing streak. The Tigers lost at home Friday night to Carroll 44-39 after a road loss at Carmel 54-52 on Feb. 18 and a home loss to Merrillville 53-48 on Feb. 11.
Coach Doug Ogle does not expect the tough end of the regular season to alter the confidence of his veteran team.
“I think that this stretch of games at the end of the regular season can only serve us well going into the sectional,” said Ogle last week prior to facing Carroll. “It helps us to stay focused and to keep the issues that we need to work on and improve on on the radar.”
Ogle, whose team went 3-5 in its final eight games, was not worried either following the loss to Carroll Friday night in which his team was outscored 16-7 in the final quarter to lose on Senior Night.
“Our guys are disappointed, they wanted to do better on Senior Night,” Ogle explained in his postgame interview session. “But, this isn’t the end. It’s not like we don’t care, we care. But, also, we knew that when we put this schedule together that this could happen. But, if you’re serious about winning the sectional, this is how you should do it and trust that your players have enough emotional stability to battle through it. I think they do, matter of fact, I know they do.”
Warsaw will rely heavily on star Kyle Mangas in the posteason. The 6-3 senior guard and Indiana All-Star hopeful is averaging 21.5 points-per-game to go with also leading his team in rebounding (5.5), assists (2.4) and steals (1.6). Mangas is shooting 47 percent from the field and 88 percent from the free throw line and has hit 49-121 from three-point range.
Mangas, who will play at Indiana Wesleyan next year, has scored 494 points this season. He is now fifth in program history with 1,311 career points. He had scored 20 or more points in 13 straight games until only scoring 10 Friday night versus Carroll.
The Tigers also rely on senior Jeremy David, Braxton Minix and Jaceb Burish and junior Asher Blum. The 6-4 David averages five points and five rebounds per game, while 6-7 Minix and 6-7 Blum are both right around five points and three rebounds per night.
The Tigers look for sophomore Nolan Groninger to return for the sectional. The backup point guard, who has given the team strong play in the backcourt since being called up from the JV team last month, missed the Carroll game due to an ankle injury.
Warsaw, which owns a 4-1 mark versus teams in the sectional, meets a Northridge team that is on the upswing. The Raiders, who lost 68-46 at Warsaw back on Jan. 6, have won four in a row and nine of their last 11 games. Senior Luke Morrison, who averages 19 ppg., and junior Connor Utley (12.2) lead coach Ronnie Thomas’ squad.
“Northridge is a dangerous team,” noted Ogle. “They are trending in the right direction late in the season and they have two players in Morrison and Utley who can score the ball.”
Ogle points to host Elkhart Central as the team to beat. The Blue Blazers are 19-2 and topped the Tigers 50-45 back on Jan. 28 in North Side Gym. Central has won its last 11 games and posted the most wins in the 45-year history of the program under first-year coach Terry Smith.
“Central is undefeated versus the field, they have the quickest team in the sectional, they have the best post player in the sectional, they are playing on their home floor and they have the deepest team in the sectional,” Ogle rattled off as to why the hosts are the favorite.
Warsaw owns regular-season wins over Northridge, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen and Concord and did not play Penn. The Tigers are allowing just 42.8 points-per-game, while scoring at a 51.1 per game clip.
The Warsaw-Northridge winner advances to play either Penn (10-12) or Central in a semifinal game Friday night at 7:45. Penn faces Central Wednesday at 6 p.m. The sectional begins Tuesday with Goshen (13-9) playing Concord (8-14) at 7 p.m. The winner of that game meets Elkhart Memorial (11-11) Friday in the first semifinal game at 6 p.m. The sectional final is schedule for Saturday at 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to the Michigan City Regional March 11 to face the East Chicago Central Sectional champion in the second semifinal game.
Warsaw defeated Elkhart Central 38-35 in the sectional final in 2016. The Tigers then went on to win the Michigan City Regional before losing to McCutcheon 40-37 in the Lafayette Jefferson Semistate.