By Mike Deak
LIGONIER – “Round two goes to the Warriors!”
Wawasee head coach Jon Everingham was ecstatic and relieved at the same time. Having to knock off a very talented Tippecanoe Valley team for a second time in four days, Everingham’s Warriors finished off the deed Tuesday night, 53-48, in the opening round of the Class 3-A West Noble Boys Basketball Sectional.
“It’s just been a matter of a bunch of guys who have bought into what their roles are at this point of the season and are doing those things very well,” Everingham said, whose team beat Valley 58-51 last Friday. “They’ve been patient with the development. This is the best basketball we’ve played all year.”
Wawasee’s fortunes weren’t necessarily rested on its household names, rather taking solace in the added coin provided by a pair of its role players. Seven points and a rebound from Mark Wiggs and two points, four rebounds and a block by Adam Beer may not look like championship material, but deeper than the box score showed the value Wawasee got from its bench.
Wiggs had five points in the third quarter, including an and-one, and then had another bucket in the fourth quarter to give Wawasee a 46-43 lead.
Beer’s only two points came on a press break in the fourth to put the Warriors up five as Valley began to scramble, but his offensive rebound with 20 seconds left off a missed free throw kept the ball on Wawasee’s end as they would maintain a five-point lead. Beer even had a block at half court as Valley’s last second heave at the half was abruptly sent a hard right instead of arcing straight.
“We’ve known all year long that Mark could score, he’s done it at the JV level, but it was could he defend,” Everingham said. “He matched up well with Perkins on the inside and got some great minutes for us. He’s had every opportunity to fall by the wayside this year, not work hard in practice, complain about minutes. But he’s been confident in his game. He’s worked very hard. And it’s so rewarding to see a young man take his opportunity in the biggest game of our year so far and play like that, what a testament to his character.”
Tippecanoe Valley head coach Chad Patrick recognized the small things Wiggs and Beer did in the contest, but noted Caden Welty’s ability to take wide open three-pointers stuck out to him the most. Welty was 4-4 from behind the arc and led Wawasee with 16 points.
“We said all day at practice yesterday and all night tonight ‘don’t leave Welty’ and there he is with four threes,” said Patrick. “He’s just too good of a shooter.”
Patrick’s Vikings battled to the end, but couldn’t string together any sort of run in the fourth. Valley wasn’t able to put together back-to-back baskets in the fourth after taking a 38-37 lead when Nolan Cumberland hit a three to open the frame. Welty answered that with a three, and after Paul Leasure hit a three to give Valley a 43-42 lead, Wawasee scored the next six points to take the lead for good.
Cumberland and Dawson Perkins each had 11 points and Leasure finished with 10 points. Perkins added eight rebounds and two blocks and Brendyn Stump chipped in nine points and three assists.
“It’s been a crazy year with COVID and injuries,” said Patrick, whose team bows out at 7-16 overall. “These kids didn’t give up, they fought hard. They kept plugging away. In 23 games, we had 16 different lineup cards. It was crazy. I’m proud of them the way they fought and their energy.”
Wawasee (12-11) will look to end a decade of misery against its neighbors at NorthWood (13-8) on Friday in the second semi-final. NorthWood has won the last 13 matchups over Wawasee, dating back to 2010. Game one will see Northeast Corner Conference rivals Lakeland (9-13) and West Noble (12-9) meet again.
“All of the pressure is on NorthWood,” Everingham said. “If we play good, solid defense, it’s going to be hard to beat us. Staying true to us is the key. We’re going to go have fun, enjoy each other and the fact that we’re able to play basketball. Looking forward to it.”