AKRON — Tippecanoe Valley coach Chad Patrick knew his young players were going to be nervous at the outset of their opener with Warsaw Wednesday night — doubly so because of the extra attention garnered by the official dedication of the Vikings’ home court as Rita Price Simpson Court.
Instead Valley’s players surprised their coach, jumping out to a 10-9 lead in the opening quarter. But the Tigers responded with 15 unanswered points and never trailed again on the way to an eventual 61-37 win in the two teams’ opener in Akron.
“I thought if we could come out and play well the first three to four minutes that we could hang with them and compete in the whole game. We scripted several plays. I tried to do as much as I could so that the younger kids wouldn’t have to think much; they could just play and take the pressure off and go,” Patrick explained. “And we did that really well, and, boy, in the second quarter we kind of forgot everything we work on in practice.”
“We had six practices coming into this game, and, honestly, things haven’t been real smooth in our practices. So I didn’t know how we were going to play tonight, and I wasn’t surprised that Valley got off to a decent start,” said Warsaw coach Doug Ogle.
“I don’t know exactly what happened in that 15-0 run but a lot of good things. I thought overall tonight was a good start. We had some good contributions off the bench. I’m not disappointed with how we played tonight.”
After a relatively slow start, the Tigers settled in to outscore their hosts 37-13 over the middle periods, taking a commanding 47-23 lead into the final frame, where the two teams played evenly. In particular, Warsaw had the advantage inside, scoring 42 points in the paint and out-rebounding the Vikings 45-23, including 20 offensive caroms, which the Tigers converted to 14 second chance points.
Sophomore Jackson Dawson led the Tigers on the interior, showing growth in his game from his freshman season, and his 6’6” frame caused havoc inside as he scored 12 points with seven rebounds.
“I liked Jackson’s pace tonight. He was on-balance, and he was pretty strong. I’m encouraged by how he played tonight in terms of finishing plays in the basket area,” said Ogle.
Brock Poe matched Dawson’s 6-for-10 performance from the floor on his way to a team-high 14 points off the bench, while Blake Marsh put up nine points with two assists and two steals, and Jaylen Coon chipped in eight points, six rebounds and two assists for balanced Warsaw, which had 10 players make the scoring column and finished at a better-than-42-percent clip at Valley.
On the other end of the floor, the Tigers limited their hosts to just 31 percent from the field. The Vikings didn’t help their own cause all that much with 7-of-17 free throw shooting. Rex Kirchenstien led the Vikings offensively with 12 points, but he was the only Valley player to reach double figures.
“We’re athletic enough and strong enough that we should be able to guard. Tonight we were just stronger and quicker than Tippecanoe Valley. A good starting game for us defensively,” Ogle said.
“It’s all fixable things, but it’s all things I was afraid could happen with a young group. What we really need is the seniors to step up and take leadership,” said Patrick. “They have an opportunity to lead a very good group of young kids. And I’m not talking about making them better for next year. I’m talking about making them better for this year because I think we can be a really, really good team this year.”
Prior to tip-off at Wednesday’s opener, Hall of Fame sports broadcaster Rita Price, a longtime reporter of Valley sports and former broadcaster of Warsaw sports, was honored by Valley athletic officials in the official dedication of the court as Rita Price Simpson Court.
“We had Rita Price come in and talk to the team yesterday. We just wanted to recognize her. She was great,” said Ogle. “Early on, she was broadcasting Tiger basketball games. So it was really meaningful to have her there, and we’re thankful that we got to be part of this tonight when they named the court Rita Price Simpson Court. We appreciate her very much.”
“Rita is just one of the greatest people you’ll ever meet and you’ll ever know. I’ve known her since I was a little kid playing. She’s just full of life and always has a smile on her face. One of the most positive people you’ll ever meet, and we’re just lucky over here at Valley to have her on our side doing our football and basketball games,” Patrick said.
“We love her to death, and just nothing better than to dedicate this court to her.”
Warsaw won Wednesday’s JV game, 51-15. Brendyn Stump scored five points to lead the JV Vikings. Jaxon Gould scored 18, and Judah Simfukwe finished with 14 for Warsaw’s JV.
Valley resumes play at Argos Dec. 3. Warsaw travels to Columbia City Saturday.