SYRACUSE — Wawasee girls basketball coach Matt Carpenter wasn’t always happy with his young team’s play late in the fourth quarter of its home-opener with Fairfield Tuesday night.
Sure, there were some turnovers against the Falcons’ full court zone and on-the-ball half court pressure that could’ve been avoided, but those are the marks of an inexperienced team after all. What Carpenter couldn’t find fault with was his team’s resolve. The Lady Warriors outscored their guests 8-3 in overtime, including big free throws by freshman Jada Carter and senior Casey Schroeder, and Wawasee collected its second straight win, 48-43, over its sectional rival at the Hardwood Teepee.
“I’ve got an inexperienced team, but what we’re starting to build is a little bit of toughness and a little bit of resolve is the word I used in the locker room. We don’t do things perfect. We make mistakes,” explained Carpenter.
“We’re battling through adversity, and for a young, inexperienced team like this I’m proud of how they respond to adversity right now.”
After missing a free throw in the bonus with 11.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the score knotted at 40-all, freshman guard Carter made the most of her second chance in the extra period.
Carter’s cool conversion of a one and one with 24.6 ticks left in overtime pushed the Warriors out to a 45-41 advantage, finally giving her team a little breathing room. She finished the night with 14 points — second only to Schroeder’s game-high 18 — in addition to a pair of steals to help lift Wawasee to the win over the same Fairfield team that ended the Warriors’ season in the Sectional 21 championship last season.
“Here’s the nice thing from a coaching standpoint — yes, we want to get the ball in Casey’s hands, but we don’t have to solely get it in her hands now. I feel like we’ve got four people that can handle the ball and hit free throws. I treat Jada just like I treat everybody else. I don’t care that she’s a freshman because she expects that out of herself,” said Carpenter.
“She responded. Yes, she missed a free throw, but the girl has got ice in her veins. And then Casey comes out and hits two at the end too. We work a lot on our free throw shooting. We’re starting to improve. We’re not as good as what I want to be, but I do have the confidence that we’ve got a variety of girls that can step up when we need them in those tight situations.”
Schroeder’s steal and front end charity toss in the double bonus with 14.2 seconds on the clock pushed Wawasee out to a full two-possession cushion and forced Fairfield into hurry-up mode. Falcons sophomore Laney Faldoe’s two freebies with three seconds remaining whittled that deficit back to three, but the Warriors inbounded the ball to Schroeder, and this time she converted both her free throws at the 2.2-second mark to bring the score to her final margin.
Coming off ACL surgery in the offseason, Schroeder led her team a second game with 18 points to go along with two rebounds, two assists and a block while logging some serious minutes with her right leg covered in a full length wrap.
“That’s a tough role to come in,” explained Carpenter. “You’re coming off an ACL surgery. You know you can’t log every minute of every game. You know that maybe we’re playing her a little too much at times, but she’s communicating with us and she’s relaying the message to the girls and she’s pulling everybody together.”
While the Warriors made their free throws to put it away down the stretch, Fairfield knocked down 19 free throws in 22 trips to the stripe in Syracuse.
It was that free throw shooting that kept the Falcons in it at halftime, as Wawasee held its guests to a paltry 2-of-16 shooting clip from the floor over the first half, but Fairfield converted 11 of 12 freebies to remain within six points of its hosts at 21-15 at the break. A 12-5 start to the second half put the Falcons out front for the first and last time at 27-26 with three minutes left in the third stanza, but the lead changed hands only one more time on Carter’s triple from the wing on a Madison Mottern inside-out assist on the other end, although the Warriors would need the extra period to close out the win.
“The big thing for me is even at halftime we talked about, look we gave them 11 free throws in the first half, and that’s why they’re in the game. I said ‘Listen to me, I’m not telling you to go passive. I’m telling you we’ve got to get smarter, and we’ve got to anticipate and close down some driving lanes with our help sides and we’ve got to be able to see both and react a little quicker,’” Carpenter said. “I said ‘I don’t want you to play passive,’ and what happened? We came out and we played passive for a little while, and they caught back up, not even from the free throw line. So we have to find that line of being able to pressure people but yet keep them in front and not reach and bail them out of situations. And we’ll get there, I hope.”
While Schroeder and Carter led the Wawasee offense in double figures, Hannah Lancaster and Danielle Jenkins each chipped in five, and Caitlin Wortinger put up four points and a team-high seven rebounds. Morgan Sanchez paced the Fairfield offense with 14 points, and Kara Kitson scored 10 before exiting the game in overtime following a collision with Lancaster going for a loose ball at mid court early in overtime and was helped off the floor on wobbly legs.
The Falcons (1-2) host Elkhart Memorial Thursday night. With its second straight win, Wawasee (2-1) now heads out for a three-game road trip beginning at Westview Friday.
“This is two games in a row now we’ve been able to win some close ones, and I think that experience is going to help us understand how to close out basketball games. We didn’t do the best job in regulation to finish the game, but we made the plays down the stretch,” said Carpenter.