AKRON — With a potential Sectional 21 rematch next Friday against Wawasee, Tippecanoe Valley coach Chris Kindig tried not to show his hand too soon against the visiting Lady Warriors Tuesday.
But once Wawasee had jumped on the Vikings, gapping them by as many as nine points early in the second frame, the Valley boss couldn’t afford to play his cards so close to his chest, and he and his players went all in. The Vikings rallied back from a 20-14 halftime deficit and closed out their home slate with an eventual, convincing win over the Warriors by a 46-33 final margin in Akron.
“I think we maybe started out the game playing a little close, but by the time we get down nine or 10 points, we wanted to win the game. So I would say after about the first quarter that was all out the window, and we tried to play to win and do what we needed to do to win the basketball game,” said Kindig.
“You might see a few different things next week if we do end up playing, but I don’t think either one of us held anything back,” said Wawasee coach Matt Carpenter. “Both of us understood that this game matters for our team, and I think both of us wanted to make a statement tonight to let each other know that we’re going to battle for 32, and we don’t care that we might see each other in another week.”
Tuesday’s likely sectional preview was pretty much a tale of two halves with Wawasee (12-9) controlling the first half and the Vikings (18-3) battling furiously for the run of play after the break.
The Warriors’ ball hawking defense flustered the hosts into 13 turnovers over the first two periods, as Valley scuffled to a 4-of-13 shooting mark prior to the intermission. Wawasee knocked down 9 of its first 22 shots from the floor, meanwhile, and scored nine points off eight steals. Senior guard Aubrey Kuhn — still sporting a face mask due to a broken nose — mixed it up for a full six of those steals and scored on a pair of fast breaks en route to a team-leading seven points before halftime, while fellow seniors Hannah-Marie Lamle and Kabrea Rostochak put up six and five points, respectively.
Trailing by as many as nine points on Lamle’s jumper off the elbow following a Caitlin Wortinger offensive rebound at the 5:27 stop of the second period and still behind by six at the half, Valley adjusted on both ends of the floor in the second half, using a 2-3 zone to hold its guests to 4-of-16 shooting over the final two frames and spreading the floor on the offensive end to open up the Warrior defense and convert on 14 of 22 second half shots.
“I think that’s what makes Tippy Valley a ranked team — I think that’s why they’ve had success in the past four or five years — is they’re able to take it to another notch and make adjustments, and tonight we didn’t do that,” said Carpenter. “We could see them in a week; we’ll make the adjustments. I think the disappointing thing for us as a team was… the execution followed our mentality. We got too passive. We didn’t see our huddles on the floor. We didn’t make adjustments. We didn’t move on from mistakes, and those are all things that make us who we are, things that we did well in the first half.”
Valley senior Addy Miller deserved much of the credit for the Vikings’ comeback in her final game on the floor in Akron.
After being charged with her third foul a little over a minute into the third quarter, Miller scored on five of six attempts over the second half on her way to a game-high 17 points. A pair of driving left-handed layups by Miller helped spark Valley during an 8-4 start to the third as the Vikings whittled Wawasee’s lead to 24-22. By the quarter break, they were out front, 31-28, and a pair of Miller 3-pointers in the fourth helped the home team gap the Warriors, the second a dagger from the wing at the 6:08 stop of the fourth that pushed Valley to a 10-point advantage.
“We went with that four out look, and she got a couple drives to the basket early in that third quarter to set the right tone for us to start the second half. We’re down, what, six at the half, and really, honestly, I felt fortunate to only be down six as poorly as we shot the ball,” explained Kindig. “But she got two quick drives off of dribble penetration, left-handers driving to the basket, and then she got a couple good looks.
“She played well. She played like a senior.”
Junior Sophie Bussard also had a productive second half with eight of her 12 points coming after the break. But while Carpenter couldn’t fault his team’s effort on Bussard — she simply found ways to make plays, he said — he wasn’t satisfied with the Warriors’ efforts on Miller over the final 16 minutes.
“She’s a great shooter. She’s shown the ability to get to the hole this year, too, and her ball handling has improved, and we did not do a good job on her. I’ll say flat out we did not do a good job on Addy Miller,” he said. “And credit her for making the adjustments, trying to get to the hole a little bit more, but we were a step slow defensively in the second half. We were a step slow in the second half, so we didn’t recover well on shooters. We gave up too many open looks, and they capitalized on them.”
Olivia Trippiedi — playing in her fifth game back after a stretch battling illness — chipped in seven points and was just a solid presence on the floor for her team. Since her return in a game at NorthWood Jan. 9, the Vikings have won four of five and three straight. Fellow upperclassman Asia O’Connor added six points and a team-high eight rebounds — alongside Bussard — as they played their last home game at Valley.
“That was a good win for us, and that was a tough battle,” said Kindig. “I’ll give Wawasee a lot of credit. They played hard and — especially in that first half in their man defense — they were on the ball tough and made it tough for us to get to our spots. But we were able to open some things up in that second half.”
Wawasee’s seniors also led their team. Kuhn and Lamle each finished with 10 points, and Rostochak added five points and five rebounds, but it wasn’t quite enough as the Vikings snapped a three-game win streak by the Warriors. Wawasee closes out the regular season with a Northern Lakes Conference game at Concord Thursday night. The Warriors get the bye at next week’s Fairfield Sectional and will wait to play the winner of Tuesday’s opener between Valley and Lakeland in the early semifinal Friday night.
“Those girls set foot on the floor tonight expecting to win, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I want to set foot on the practice floor tomorrow night with the expectation that we will win our next game, and whoever we see — Lakeland or Tippy Valley — in that first round, we’re going to be ready for. That needs to be our mentality,” Carpenter said.
Valley will close its own conference schedule on the road at Manchester Friday. Sitting at 5-2 in the Three Rivers Conference, it’s a must-win for the Vikings, who would need a little help from Rochester, Northfield and Manchester — who all sit at one loss in the TRC — to grab a share of the conference crown, which Valley has enjoyed sole possession of the past three seasons.
“If somebody told me I had to win one of these two games this week, I’d probably choose the one on Thursday because it’s a conference game,” Kindig said. “But from a momentum standpoint and from a confidence standpoint and someone that you could possibly see in the sectional, I thought we needed to come out and play well. Obviously a little disappointed in the start, but I liked our finish and hopefully that’ll build us some momentum for Thursday and next week. To me, the pressure of the game was a lot like a sectional setting, and I think that was good for our team.”
Also Tuesday, Valley’s JV topped Wawasee 37-33. Sidney Wagner and Emma Craig finished with 11 points apiece for the hone team. Kenzie Smith scored seven points with two assists to lead the JV Warrior offense, while Abby Steiner and Rhian Galloway scored six points with two rebounds each.