By Mike Deak
LIGONIER – NorthWood boys basketball head coach Aaron Wolfe typically doesn’t show much emotion on the sideline past immediacy to the occasional foul call. Saturday night, Wolfe showed quite a bit more emotion.
On more than one occasion Wolfe egged on the NorthWood populous to make noise, and as the final horn sounded on a 46-40 win over West Noble in the sectional championship game Saturday night, Wolfe raised both arms in the air with a grin 10 miles wide.
“The last year is almost unexplainable,” Wolfe said. “With all of the adversity that our community, our school and even our basketball team has faced, this one is special. There were a lot more barriers in the way.”
For the second night in a row, Wolfe had reason to smile. After a one-point escape of Wawasee Friday night, the defending sectional champs had to take on the hosts on their home court. And in front of a very full gymnasium with an enthusiasm harkening to pre-pandemic levels, NorthWood made the plays it needed to continue its season.
West Noble started the game the way it wanted, pressuring NorthWood right out of the gate to take an 11-10 lead. NorthWood’s Chaz Yoder hit the shot of the night, however, sending an 80-foot heave perfectly through the hoop at the first quarter buzzer that even the West Noble students gave thumbs up of approval.
West Noble’s 22-21 halftime lead would disappear quickly in the third as NorthWood would start the second half on a 9-2 run. NorthWood wouldn’t give up the lead, and got a championship play from Ian Raasch with 1:12 to go in the game. With NorthWood up 39-35 after Cade Brenner hit the front end of two free throws, the second try missed but Raasch was there to get the offensive rebound. He would then step to the line and hit two free throws to put his team up six.
“Ian is so versatile,” Wolfe said. “I feel like it is impressive that we have some players that are just sophomores playing big minutes for our basketball team. I could not be prouder of any group that I’ve coached.”
Raasch finished the game with 10 points and Brenner hit 7-11 free throws among his 15 points. The Panthers were 8-13 in free throw attempts in the fourth quarter and 11-18 overall.
NorthWood also did a job on Austin Cripe. The talented Charger sophomore scorer, averaging near 20 points per game this season, was held to just nine points Saturday night. Cripe was held to just one made field goal in the second half. Zach Beers had 11 points for the Chargers (13-10), which is still searching for its first sectional title in program history.
NorthWood (15-8) adds a tenth sectional championship trophy to its collection, and a ‘prospective’ trip to New Castle next weekend for the regional and a date against the hosts (9-15) in the 10 a.m. game. It will be a year ago to the day when the IHSAA postponed and then later canceled the remainder of the state tournament amidst the outset of the pandemic. Slated for game two at New Castle are Mississinewa (17-8) and Leo (21-4).