By Beau Wicker Pharos-Tribune
---- — Winamac’s girls basketball team finds itself in a familiar spot — in the regional.
The Lady Warriors (14-6) face No. 12-ranked Westview (19-3) at 11 a.m. EST Saturday at the Class 2A Rensselaer Regional. The later semifinal pits No. 3 Fort Wayne Canterbury (17-4) vs. No. 6 Hammond Bishop Noll (20-3). The final is at 8:30 p.m.
The Warriors enter as the only unranked team, but they have won six games in a row and 10 of their last 11.
They’ve been particularly strong their last three games with a 19-point win over Caston, a 19-point win over Delphi in sectional play and a 10-point win over North Judson in the sectional final.
“We’ve been steadily getting better all year,” Winamac coach Jeff Wagner said. “Our defense has been really good here the last two weeks of the season. The only time we have any trouble is when we don’t play it for four quarters. The girls know we have to play four quarters Saturday to get the job done.”
The Warriors’ sectional win over Delphi was particularly impressive. The game was basically a toss-up going in but the Warriors were too much for the Oracles.
“I think we were kind of a little scared going in and we respected them, and we knew that we had to play strong from the beginning to the end and I think we have to do the same this Saturday,” said senior forward Stephanie Shorter, who has scored 1,127 points for her career, fourth most in program history.
Senior point guard Bethany Brogdon talked about the Warriors’ improvement of late.
“We’ve been playing really well as a team. The beginning of the season was pretty rough but now we don’t care who shoots as long as people are scoring we’re happy for each other and we’re a really good team,” she said.
Brogdon recently passed Jordan Brandt as Winamac’s single-season assist leader. Brogdon has 135 assists on the season. Brandt, a senior on this year’s NAIA No. 5-ranked Saint Xavier team, had 124 assists in 2010.
“It’s definitely an honor. She’s a great player,” Brogdon said. “I didn’t even know that I was close.”
Many have Brogdon’s assists have gone to Shorter.
“Beth and Steph have been playing together for so long it’s almost like they could find each other when we can’t see it,” Wagner said.
Shorter averages 20.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game to lead the Warriors. Brogdon averages 9.1 points and 6.8 assists per contest. Ali Larkin adds 8.0 ppg.
Taylor Brandt, the cousin of Jordan Brandt, also starts and enjoyed a big sectional. Michaela Ingram is also a starter.
Stephanie Crist, Savanna Button and Mackenzie Howard contribute off the bench, as does 5-11 sophomore Raychel Davis, who has come on of late and had a big sectional.
Westview enters on a nine-game win streak and its only three losses this year were to Class 4A Goshen and Northridge and Class 3A Fairfield.
The Warriors of Westview are led by 5-11 sophomore Grace Gum-Hales (14.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg), 6-1 sophomore Maria McCoy (13.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg) and 5-4 senior Brooke Yoder (11.6 ppg), who shoots 47 percent from 3.
“They’ve got 6-1 inside, that’s always a problem so that’s a main focus,” Wagner said. “They have three scorers.”
Brogdon said it’ll take a determined effort from her team.
“We’ve been working hard. We don’t have much height but we have a lot of girls that are willing to work hard. And sometimes it’s not who has the most talent, it’s who wants to work the hardest and I think we’re that team,” she said.
Added Shorter, “I think that we really have to play awesome defense and be able to play inside and outside really well all-around.
“We all want it so bad that we’re just going to play our best.”
Canterbury is the favorite to win the regional. The Cavaliers won back-to-back Class A state titles before being moved up to 2A this year due to the IHSAA’s success factor. They have won five state titles in the last six years.
They are led by likely Indiana All-Star Kindell Fincher, a 5-10 Xavier recruit who is averaging 27.1 ppg and 9.8 rpg. Darby Maggard, a 5-5 junior, adds 21.2 points and 6.2 assists per game and is shooting 41 percent from 3.
While Canterbury averages 76.0 ppg, Bishop Noll holds teams to 30.2 ppg. The Bishop Noll Warriors are led by Naomi House’s 14.4 ppg.
“We’re probably the underdog and we’ve got nothing to lose and we’re going to go over there and give it our all,” Wagner said.
Winamac has won two regional titles, the last in 2010, when it defeated Garrett and Westview to win the title. The Warriors then were narrowly defeated by a powerful Fort Wayne Bishop Luers team in semistate play.
“Actually it’s eerily similar this team to how we’ve come into this game and the type of game that some of the players have had to get us here,” Wagner said. “They’re not exactly like that team, they have their own identity, but they have really come together as a team the last two weeks and I’m really proud of them for taking the sectional win. We’re going to go over and enjoy it Saturday.
“We’re just focused in on that first game. If we can get to that championship game it’d just be icing on the cake for our season and we’d get a chance to see what we can do against Canterbury. Westview will present a lot of trouble and we’ve got to take care of business first.”