PLYMOUTH — Wawasee’s boys have been knocking on the Northern Lakes Conference door in each of their past two games. On Friday, the Warriors finally broke into the conference win column against previous NLC-unbeaten Plymouth in a down-to-the-wire, 48-46 thriller at the Rock.
It was a huge win not only for this year’s Warriors but for the program, which hadn’t beaten the Pilgrims since 2011 and hadn’t won in Plymouth since 2006.
“That was a huge win for us. We haven’t won here in a long, long time, and we wanted it tonight. We talked all week about how big of a game this is for us and our season,” said Wawasee coach Jon Everingham.
“I just couldn’t be more happy for our team. We’ve been through a lot in the last three or four years. To come to Plymouth and win is a really, really big boost for our program.”
The Warriors started fast in Plymouth, jumping out to a 7-0 start midway through the first frame and still led 9-2 at the first quarter break. They were silent from the floor for half of the second period, however, and Plymouth senior Jake Reichard’s lay-in at the buzzer put Wawasee into a slim halftime hole at 15-14.
The two teams were knotted up at 28-all following a back-and forth third period — the game featured 12 lead changes and five ties all told — and Plymouth took a tentative, 44-43 lead following a Reichard three-pointer from the wing at the 1:51 mark of the fourth. Kam Salaar’s own wing triple with 1:23 remaining tied it up one final time, and Ethan Carey’s driving assist to Austin Miller, who finished along the baseline with 32.1 ticks to play put Wawasee out front once more.
Following Plymouth’s last timeout with 14.5 seconds on the game clock, Miller knocked the ball loose from Reichard’s hands high in the halfcourt. Reichard regained possession over a scrambling Miller, but he only had time for one deep Hail Mary attempt that caromed harmlessly off the rim as time expired.
“It feels great. It came down to the last 15 seconds, got a big stop. It was a little worrying, but we came through and got it done,” said Salazar of the game’s tense final moments.
The Warriors’ active defense resulted in 12 steals — including a game-high four by Salazar and three more by Ethan Hardy and Jaydon Boyer — and 14 points off a total of 15 Plymouth turnovers. The visitors also held Reichard four points under his average at 19 for the night. He converted at a 6-of-11 clip from the field, but Wawasee held the rest of the Pilgrims to a combined 10-of-26 (38.4 percent) rate from the floor.
“I thought our hands especially were really good,” said Everingham. “Reichard finished with 19 points, and that’s as good a job as we can do on him. He’s a very good high school basketball player. My number was 16 — I thought if we could hold him around 16 points that we’d have a chance to win. As it turns out, he did get 19. He shot the ball really well — 6-of-11 — but I think all of his shots were contested. And you’ve got to hand it because it wasn’t Austin Miller all night. Austin Miller got in a little bit of foul trouble. We put Ethan Hardy, Kameron Salazar and a number of guys on him, so it was a total team effort.”
“We emphasized that a lot this week — trying to get stops — and obviously if we didn’t do it at practice you get punished by running. But it showed tonight, and it came up big when we needed it,” explained Salazar of his team’s defense Friday.
“It helps with our second team. They do a great job of handling the ball. Actually some of them could play varsity with their handles, so it really helps with that stuff.”
Along with his defensive heroics, Salazar finished with 11 points in Plymouth. Austin Miller scored 17 on 7-of-14 shooting to lead his team, while Jack Stover scored eight, and Hardy finished with seven points and five rebounds. The Warriors passed out 12 team assists — with three from Miller and three more apiece by Keaton Dukes and Boyer — while scoring at a 17-of-41 (41.5 percent) field goal rate.
“I think some of that was the fact that they were playing a 1-3-1. We had to make good passes,” said Everingham. “They made it extremely difficult for us. I told the guys after the game that I think what’s most satisfying is we did not play a perfect game and beat a good team. I think there’s room for improvement.”
Behind Reichard’s 19, Easton Strain finished with 10, and Adam Hunter scored eight for Plymouth, which slid to 6-9 and 3-1 in the NLC. Wawasee, meanwhile, improved to 8-5 overall — already more wins than the Warriors have logged in any of the past four seasons — and 1-3 in the conference. Wawasee returns home to host Bethany Christian next Tuesday.
Wawasee also won Friday’s JV affair by a much more comfortable, 47-37 margin. Collin Roberson scored a game-high 16 points with four rebounds and two steals. Caden Welty scored seven, and three players — Landon Gause, Marten Kant and Gavin Hunziker — finished with six points each.