WARSAW — As final acts go, it was a memorable one.
Warsaw senior Emma Bohnenkamper took her last bow at the Tiger Den in dramatic fashion Thursday night, driving the lane and flipping up a buzzer-beating lay-in over NorthWood bigs Savannah Feenstra and Kate Rulli to seal a 28-26 win.
The game-winner by the Lady Tigers senior swing touched off an on-court celebration by the home team, and she was all smiles long after that last shot banked off the glass and into the net to propel Warsaw to the win in its regular season-closer and the last home game of Bohnenkamper’s career.
“It’s a great feeling — a good way to end the year, a good way to end my entire high school basketball career. And it’s a great feeling knowing that he believed in me enough to take that last-second shot for us,” said Bohnenkamper.
“I just told her in there ‘What more could a senior want going out last game in your gym?’ And, by golly, how many kids can say they hit a game-winning shot on their home floor their last game of the year?” asked Warsaw coach Lenny Krebs.
“I’m beaming with pride right now.”
With the game knotted up at 26 following NorthWood junior Kenzie Bergman’s triple from the wing after she got a little space on a Warsaw defensive switch with 41 seconds to go, the play Krebs initially drew up for the final seconds of Thursday’s Northern Lakes Conference-closer didn’t quite pan out. But with his team in the bonus and six seconds on the game clock, the wily Warsaw boss diagramed a plan to stretch the Black Swish defense, giving Bohnenkamper room to operate and either get to the line or convert from the field. No need for free throws — Bohnenkamper shook her defender off the dribble and rolled in a contested buzzer-beater from the right side for the feel-good win, the Tigers’ second straight to close out the regular season.
“Before that last timeout we had set up a play where we were going to try to curl Emma and bring Maddie (Ryman) up,” explained Krebs.
“We didn’t get it, and we had to call a timeout. Unfortunately we had the ball on the side at that point in time. Basically we wanted to get the basketball in to Emma, and we were just going to space the floor. I’ve got complete confidence in this kid; she has no idea how much confidence I have in her. We were going to run Halle (Shipp) to one side, Maddie to the other and just space the floor and see what happened. Not a lot you can do in four or five seconds, but she took advantage of it.”
“He just basically said ‘Get a full head of steam and go to the basket and try to get a foul’ so that’s basically what I did,” recalled Bohnenkamper.
“It was a lot of nerves. I definitely was really nervous when I got the ball, but I believed in Coach and I knew he believed in me so might as well shoot the last-second shot.”
Thursday’s NLC capper — which left the Tigers (14-8) and the Black Swish (15-8) tied for conference runner-up honors at 5-2 behind Northridge’s unblemished 7-0 mark — was a low-scoring affair, and both teams showed patience in the offensive half court in a game both coaches knew would be a defensive battle. All told, the two teams surrendered only eight turnovers apiece and were only able to convert around 33 percent of their shots — NorthWood was a little better from the field with a 9-of-27 mark, while Warsaw knocked down 10 of 31 shots from the field.
The Swish’s 26 points represented their lowest offensive output of the year. For his part, head coach Adam Yoder was expecting a defensive dogfight, though.
“I think it would’ve favored us if the game got into the 40s and 50s, but I didn’t expect that to happen. That score would be in the 20s and 30s if both teams came to play, and they did,” he said.
The 28 points was the second lowest production by the Tigers, meanwhile — after a 26-point outing in a loss at Goshen on Jan. 13 — and while most of the credit belonged to the NorthWood defense, Krebs thought his team’s tendency to settle for the 3-point shot early was also responsible. It didn’t help his case for high-percentage shots when Ryman and Bohnenkamper drilled a pair of treys from the top of the key in the opening two minutes as Warsaw jumped out to a 6-0 lead, and the Tigers went on to finish 3 of 11 from beyond the arch in the first half. They made just one shot in the second quarter — a long 2-pointer from the wing by Shipp early in the second stanza that gave the home team its biggest lead of the night at 12-4. But NorthWood closed the half on an 8-0 run to knot the game at 12-all at the intermission.
“Part of our offensive struggle was in the first half I thought we had way too many 3s in comparison to 2s. I think it was 11 3s to five 2s at halftime, and we can’t have that type of imbalance in 2s to 3s. We’ve got to do a much better job in making sure we’re balanced in how we’re looking to score,” Krebs said.
“The problem is we hit our first two 3s, and then all of a sudden you can see their confidence rise from 3-point range, and as a coach that’s not always a good thing to see. I’m thinking ‘Oh, here we go.’ We’re slowly starting to learn how to play that balance of 2s to 3s.”
While Bohnenkamper tallied seven points and a game-high four assists, Ryman scored 11 as the lone Lady Tiger in double figures. Kacy Bragg and Brielle Harrison didn’t light up the stat sheet but did a blue collar job alongside Bohnenkamper containing a NorthWood front court with two six-footers in Feenstra and Rulli. Feenstra finished with 10 points and four rebounds, and Bergman notched eight as the Black Swish fell short of a third straight win heading into Sectional 21 play opposite West Noble next Tuesday.
“We got great leadership from our veterans,” said Yoder. “Savannah played extremely assertive, and Kenzie Bergman played extremely assertive. We just came out on the wrong end.”
Still, as sectional preparation goes, NorthWood could have done worse. With just one loss in conference play coming into Warsaw and league leader Northridge closing out its own NLC slate at home with Plymouth Thursday, the Swish were playing for a chance to steal a share of the NLC crown with a little help from the Lady Pilgrims. Northridge ultimately won that contest, 62-43, and NorthWood fell a little short in its own game, but the game’s tournament atmosphere should help Yoder’s team next week.
“I thought both teams played at a sectional level. The defensive intensity was great by both teams,” he said.
“We finished second in the conference — with Warsaw, not by ourself — but bigger fish to fry in the sectional.”
Krebs agreed that Thursday’s conference-capper can only help his team at next week’s Sectional 4. The Tigers open with a rematch with host Concord, whom they beat 46-29 a little less than a week ago, in Wednesday’s early game at 6 p.m. in Elkhart.
“Before the game we talked about how battle-tested we were. We’ve had some tight games — Norwell, Chesterton, Homestead — and we’ve come out on the wrong end of those basketball games,” Krebs said. “We keep telling them we’re becoming battle-tested. We’re learning how to play in that situation, and tonight I thought it paid off. You saw us be able to finish a game and come out on the front end. This late in the season, momentum is such a big thing. Winning or losing doesn’t cost you anything in the tournament other than the mindset, and it takes a mentally tough team to bounce back from tough losses late in the season. I think this is a nice momentum swing for us to finish off with Concord and NorthWood going into sectional, but at the same time, just because you win your last game, we start 0-0.”
Also Thursday, Warsaw’s JV closed with a 31-24 win over NorthWood. Kensie Ryman scored 12, and Madelyn Smith put up eight to lead the JV Tigers. Bre Wise finished with eight to pace the Panthers.
The Warsaw freshman team topped NorthWood 28-20 Thursday night. The Tigers hit 11-15 free throws in the fourth quarter in outscoring the Panthers 15-3 for the NLC victory. Lindsey Bradley led the way with 12 points. Sydney Lancaster scored six, while Aubrey Hepler had five and Ashley Diecks four. The frosh squad will play in the NLC Tournament at Wawasee on Saturday.