WARSAW — After narrowly surviving an overtime encounter at Elkhart Central a little over a week ago, Warsaw’s girls basketball team made some adjustments ahead of their Sectional 4 rematch at the Tiger Den.
And those adjustments paid off in a much more convincing, 46-35 win in Friday’s early semifinal. The Lady Tigers advanced to face Penn, which easily dispatched Goshen 49-19 in Friday’s nightap, in Saturday’s championship, scheduled for 6 p.m.
Although the final margin was in double digits, the rematch between Central and Warsaw was actually pretty nip-tuck throughout. The Tigers led by just four points coming down the wire, but, already in the bonus with around three minutes left to play, the home team pulled the ball out and made the most of its opportunities at the line. Warsaw players knocked down 10-of-14 free throws in the fourth quarter, including 7-of-8 by junior guard Kensie Ryman, who had the home crowd chanting “MVP” in her last trip to the line with just nine seconds left to play.
“That was probably one of the first times I’ve seen us start to understand how to play at the end of the game with a lead,” said Warsaw coach Lenny Krevs. “We’re either all or nothing — we think we either have to be trying to score with every single type of shot we can or we’re playing keep-away, playing passive. We finally got some aggressiveness where we were looking for some things, but we didn’t force a shot there at the end. When you get to that bonus, double bonus at the end with the lead, it becomes ‘You’re either going to give me a layup or you’re going to foul me.’ And I thought we did a nice job.”
Ryman finished a game co-high 13 points, and a full 10 of those points came at the free throw line. In addition to her fourth-quarter heroics, Ryman also converted all three of her free throw attempts with no time left in the first half when she was fouled throwing up a last-second shot to conclude the half, stretching the Tigers’ halftime advantage to 25-20. Brielle Harrison put up a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds, nine of those points coming in the first half, while Kacilyn Krebs scored nine points on 3-of-6 three-point shooting, and Abby Sanner scored eight points with 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. Audrey Grimm also gave the team a big lift off the bench with five points late in the third period to keep her team out front at 33-28.
“That’s something we have to have. We’ve had some games where we had some kids in high teens or 20s, and we didn’t have much after that,” explained Krebs. “In order to advance through the tournament, you’re either going to have to have a stud that can put up 35 every single game or you’re going to have to have some nice balance. We don’t have anybody that’s going to put 35 on the board consistently. They might once in a blue moon, but we’re striving for that balance.
“Our goal was to find that mismatch wherever it was, and I thought we did a nice job of finding that mismatch and finding the open person tonight.”
After the two teams’ first go-round, Warsaw made some adjustments on the defensive end to keep Central players Makayla Porter and Yiesha Williams from catching the ball in the high post, although they didn’t show their hand until later in the game. The Tigers moved from a more standard one-two-two to a modified one, sagging the top of the zone down into the key to defend the high post.
“Looking back at film, we felt like they caught the ball way too often in the high post last time that we played them. So our whole goal was to eliminate those high post catches,” Krebs said. “We hadn’t showed any of that until late in the game, and that was to try to prevent high post catches and that’s a credit to (Porter) and (Williams).”
Porter finished with 13 points, and Williams got 11 — alongside nine rebounds — but the Blue Blazers scuffled to a 6-of-24 (25 percent) clip from the floor as the Tigers pulled away in the second half.
Central closes the year at 15-8, while Warsaw moves to 15-7. The Tigers are playing for the first sectional title in five years when they tip off against Penn tonight.