WARSAW – The future of Warsaw Tiger basketball was on display Monday night under the bright lights of the TCU Court at the Tiger Den. The championships of the Warsaw Elementary boys and girls basketball tournaments concluded in front of a very big crowd at Warsaw Community High School, where legacies have just begun.
Sacred Heart and Washington squared off in both title matchups, with both games coming down to the final minute. The girls game saw Washington ramp up the defense late to claim its title while the Sacred Heart boys got one back for its school with an excellent effort from the free throw line for a historic victory.
Washington Girls 29, Sacred Heart 25
A wild fourth quarter put the cherry on top of a very well-contested opener. In all, the final five minutes saw nine lead changes, Washington using a pair of late steals to break free of the Vikings. Braisha Harrison got a steal and a layup for Washington to put the Hornets on top 25-24, but moments later Maddy McSherry hit a free throw to tie the game back up. Ava Wetzel then came back and hit a pair of free throws to reclaim the lead for Washington, and a steal by Melaina Hawblitzel on Sacred Heart’s potential tying possession, and two free throw makes on the other end, sealed the win for the Hornets..
“We really have prided ourselves on our defense this season because defense wins championships,” said Washington head coach Paige Wood. “We work on defense every day at practice and I think that showed in the last couple minutes of the games.
“You could tell it’s elementary. There were girls that are just inexperienced and the pressure gets to them and they make mistakes. So give credit to Sacred Heart for playing hard and putting pressure on us.”
Harrison led Washington with 11 points and Wetzel was next with seven points. Hawblitzel finished with six points and Colette Blackburn pitched in five points. Washington wraps up its championship season 10-2.
Sacred Heart, in losing its first game of the season to finish at 11-1, had Joey Rastrelli lead the team with 12 points, scoring half of those in the first quarter. Leah Henderson and Dalaney Vilamaa each totaled four points, McSherry had three points and Sophia Johnston added a basket.
“There are a lot of times when I have to remind myself these are nine, 10, 11-year-old girls and this is a lot of pressure playing in a tournament and an environment like this,” Wood said. “They played well today and worked together. When some of them started to feel the pressure, our sixth graders stepped up and took control. They do a good job motivating each other.”
Sacred Heart Boys 29, Washington 23
The boys game was equally as contested, with Washington taking as much as a six-point lead in the fourth quarter, only for Grady Nolin and the Vikings to come roaring back.
Consecutive baskets by Luke Yeager and Khareus Miller pushed Washington’s lead to 23-17 and the Hornets were well on their way. But a 12-0 run by the Vikings, 11 of those coming from Nolin, capped a remarkable rally and a historic championship for Sacred Heart, which claimed its first city title in 60 years. Nolin’s make with 26 seconds left gave Sacred Heart its first lead of the second half at 24-23.
After Nolin hit a free throw with 17.2 seconds left to give his team a 25-23 lead, a controversial travel call on Washington during what was presumed as a timeout from its bench gave the ball back to the Vikings, which had Nolin hit the final four shots from the free throw line to ice the title.
“I have constantly told these guys that big games come down to free throws and no greater example than us having to hit them down the stretch tonight,” said Sacred Heart head coach Colin Clemens of Nolin, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter and 7-8 from the line. “Grady is a perfect example of a kid who works hard at it and it showed tonight.”
Clemens, who himself was a star for the Tigers in the mid-2000s, was extremely proud of his team finishing off its undefeated season at 12-0, and bringing back the title to his elementary alma mater.
“I told these kids when I came here a couple years ago that I was a 12-year-old at Sacred Heart once that got beat and I didn’t make it here,” Clemens said. “All I wanted to do was make it here and bring back a championship to Sacred Heart. So to make it back as a coach and bring us a championship is bittersweet, because most people don’t get second chances like that. These kids have battled all year long, and they are going to be celebrities for a while. When you don’t win a championship for 60 years, you are going to be a big deal for a while.”
Drew Sullivan added 10 points for the Vikings, and teammate Austin Polk had the other six points.
In the loss, Washington (10-2) had Miller and Jeremiah Dawson both finish with six points, Luke Yeager had five points, Cameron Manuel had four points and Tyler Zellers made a bucket.