By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – New faces in new spaces was the theme Wednesday morning at the Hardwood Teepee in the contest between Wawasee and Illiana Christian. But an old, ugly face reared its head for the Warriors in a 47-44 loss to the Vikings in the morning session of the Wawasee Holiday Invitational.
The matchup was the first ever between Wawasee and Illiana Christian, the Vikings new to the IHSAA as of 2018 after moving across the Illinois-Indiana state line to Dyer. The unfamiliarity between both programs was evident in the early going, neither team looking comfortable in its offense as the two stumbled to a 9-7 first quarter.
As Wawasee started to settle in, Grant Brooks brought a new look to the Warrior offense with six points as the hosts took a 22-18 lead at the half.
“I thought we saw Grant Brooks come out of his shell a little bit,” said Wawasee head coach Jon Everingham of Brooks, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. “He’s been doing that in practice. Our biggest thing is that we have to be able to get the ball into the paint somehow. We’re putting a lot of pressure on our guards.”
The smooth shooting from Logan Van Essen kept the Vikings going, but so did a host of Wawasee turnovers. As the Warriors continued to turn the ball over in the second half, it also became a victim of poor shooting as well. Leading 35-34 early in the fourth quarter, Wawasee would go ice cold, not making a field goal for over six minutes. All the while, Van Essen and the Vikings built a 46-36 lead.
A steal and conversion from Keaton Dukes would end the 12-1 run, and after a Illiana turnover, Dukes hit a free throw to get Wawasee within five. Illiana would hit just 1-3 free throws in the final 30 seconds, surrounding an Ethan Carey three.
After Zeke Van Essen missed the second of two free throws, Dukes had a good look at a tying three in the waning seconds, but hit front iron as the Vikings pulled down the rebound and a ticket to the championship round Wednesday night against Garrett, which knocked off Fairfield in game one of the two-game semi-finals.
“We’re still getting better,” Everingham said, the Warriors dropping to 2-3 on the season. “After about your 10-game mark, you should not be using those types of excuses with young players, freshmen and sophomores, no experience or a lot of experience, you should know who you are. You take a look at us after five games, we still have some growing to do before we learn who we are. It feels weird because it’s after Christmas. We’ve only got five games under our belt.”
Dukes, playing in just his second game in almost a month after quarantine protocols, finished with 13 points and five rebounds. Kam Salazar, who also was playing in just his second game in weeks because of off-the-court protocols, had five points and six rebounds, but added four assists and three steals and a handful of intangible plays that kept Wawasee’s train moving.
Wawasee would wind up committing 17 turnovers in the game to just eight for the Vikings.
Logan Van Essen, the oldest of three Van Essen brothers on the roster, led the game with 23 points.
In the first game of the morning, a pair of Northeast Corner Conference rivals renewed acquaintances when Garrett and Fairfield paired up. Tyler Gater had a monster game, hitting six three-pointers and finishing with 30 points to lead the Railroaders to the championship round in a 70-61 final.
Jasen Bailey had 11 points and Jaxson Gould added eight points for the Railroaders.
The Falcons saw Anders Revoir lead the way with 23 points and Braedon Helms toss in 11 points.
Wawasee and Fairfield will meet at 6 p.m. with Garrett and Illiana Christian taking the court at approximately 7:45 p.m.