PLYMOUTH — With a chance to clinch at least a share of the Northern Lakes Conference title in Plymouth Friday, Warsaw senior Nolan Groninger had a particularly determined glint in his eye.
Groninger put up a game-high 21 points with five rebounds, three assists and three steals, making big plays every time his team needed one, and the Tigers moved to 6-0 in NLC play with a 54-41 victory at The Rock Friday.
“He’s a senior, and he’s got a chance to go through his career and be NLC champs that many times in a row. I think it’s meaningful to him,” said Warsaw coach Doug Ogle of Groninger.
“I think you look at a kid like Groninger being their leader, just very steady throughout the course of the game,” said Plymouth coach Ryan Bales. “You just never really felt like he got too down on himself. He just continued to play and compete, and I think when you have that kind of kid as your leader, then your team is going to follow in that mode.”
Groninger scored five straight points during a span of seven seconds in the third period, grabbing a pair of steals for two quick buckets, the second an and-one that pushed Warsaw out to a 12-point advantage with 5:34 on the clock. That quick spurt was part of a larger span of eight straight points in just 27 seconds by the Tigers and a 19-0 run spanning from the end of the first half through Wyatt Amiss’ third 3-pointer of the third period at the 4:37 mark. That third triple by Amiss pushed Warsaw’s lead all the way out to 18 points, and the Pilgrims were never able to regain the lead.
“Definitely not how we drew it up at halftime. We felt like we didn’t play our best basketball going into the half, and with (Cole) Filson only playing a handful of minutes the first half — he’s a big part of what we do — we felt OK going into the half,” recalled Bales. “We knew we needed to play better and then we come out, and there’s not an answer for that other than we’ve just got to do a better job at those moments keeping our composure.”
Although Plymouth never got back out front, they did run back on Warsaw following that big 19-0 run. The home team whittled Warsaw’s advantage all the way down to two possessions at 44-39 with Tim Tremaine’s free throws with 3:44 still left to play. Groninger was fouled on the other end but uncharacteristically missed both freebies, but he hustled down the rebound on his second miss, and when Clay Hilliard fouled him going after the loose ball, Groninger made the most of his next trip to the line, sinking both charity tosses to give his team back some breathing room.
“I think part of that is they took a few shots that they missed, and it allowed us to get some rebounds and quick scores, so it gave us a chance,” explained Bales of his team’s fourth-period run. “They missed a few free throws in that mix, and we were in a position where it’s a two-possession game with about two, three minutes to go. At that point we missed a free throw blockout and didn’t get the rebound, and that ends up being kind of the dagger. Groninger is not going to miss again.”
While Groninger finished with a game-high 21 and Amiss scored nine, Trevor Rumple finished with 11 points off the bench for Warsaw. Blake Marsh pulled down six rebounds and passed out six assists in a game his coach wasn’t even sure he was going to play after coming down with a stomach flu Thursday night, and Tyler Metzinger finished with seven points, four rebounds and two steals in his first game back from a foot injury. Ogle limited Metzinger’s playing time in the game, and the 6-8 senior looked increasingly comfortable as the game wore on, slamming home a two-handed dunk midway through the third stanza.
“I thought Tyler did OK tonight. He did a little bit better than I expected, and he was happy to get the dunk finally. He’s been wanting one of those,” said Ogle.
Hilliard scored 13 points but was held to 3-of-15 shooting for Plymouth. Filson finished with nine, and Jake Reichard was held to six points as the Warsaw defense limited its hosts to 13-of-39 (33.3 percent) shooting from the floor in the win, the team’s sixth straight.
“We’re real happy with this. Plymouth is good,” Ogle said. “Our goal was to hold Hilliard and Filson and Reichard to 33 points, and they got 28. Had we shot from the free throw line a little bit better it would’ve been a little more comfortable, but this is a good win for us not having played for two weeks and Marsh being sick.”
Warsaw improves to 12-4 and is guaranteed at least a share of the NLC crown with just one conference game remaining versus Elkhart Memorial — which is sitting in second in the NLC with just one loss — on Feb. 19. Plymouth dips to 13-5 and is now out of the conference championship picture at 4-2.
The Tigers play an afternoon game with Merrillville at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.