By Rick Conrad For the Pharos-Tribune
---- — NORTH JUDSON — Many folks in attendance for the first game of the Class 2A North Judson regional probably weren’t giving the Winamac Warriors much of a chance against Woodlan.
After all, Winamac didn’t look as athletic as Woodlan, they didn’t have nearly the size as Woodlan, the numbers weren’t in Winamac’s favor, even the Warriors won/loss record wasn’t as good.
But Winamac had something that Woodlan didn’t. Winamac had a junior having a career day and a group of guys that refused for their season to be over. They also had a bull-dogged determination to dominate the defensive end of the court.
With that in Winamac’s favor the Warriors advanced to the championship game of the Judson regional by turning away Woodlan 70-60 Saturday afternoon.
The hero of the day for Winamac was Parker Fox. Convinced that his team would move on, the junior led all players with 34 points in the contest. Dalton Button added 10 while Jeremy Bentle and Derek Dotlich each had 8 points each. Levi Schultz finished with seven.
“We played great as a team today,” Fox said. “Our defense really helped us along and that’s what helps to win games. The coaches had us prepared for this game. Some thought we were the underdogs of this tournament and didn’t give us a chance so we came in here and played our hearts out with nothing to lose and we got the win.”
Winamac won the opening tip and immediately things started going south for the Warriors as they turned the ball over on their first five possessions of the game. Their saving grace was their defense didn’t get off to the same start. Three minutes into the game Winamac was down 5-2 thanks to a very stubborn defense that wasn’t making things easy for Woodlan (18-7). Midway through the quarter the Warriors started to put things together on the offensive end and with 2:20 to play found themselves trailing 9-7. Winamac got to within one point before Woodlan took a 14-11 lead to end the first quarter.
Coach Kyle Johnson calmed his group during the break and simply reminded them of their assignments. Seemed easy enough as Winamac started to put things together on both ends of the floor. A traditional three-point play by Fox at the 5:47 mark tied the game at 17-17. With their next trip down the floor it was Fox again, this time from behind the line to give the Warriors their first lead of the game at 20-19.
Woodlan regained the lead but it wouldn’t last long. Winamac had started to find holes in the zone Woodlan was playing and a 3-ball by Dotlich at the 2:34 mark gave Winamac the lead at 23-21, a lead they would never lose. Now playing with the lead Winamac turned up the pressure on defense and started to rattle Woodlan. With 1:01 to go before the half Winamac took possession and held for the last shot. A shot by Dotlich in the corner missed its mark but Winamac took a 26-21 lead into the break.
The third quarter belonged to Winamac all the way. Another traditional three-pointer by the Warriors at the 5:43 mark gave them their biggest lead at that point, 32-25. Moments later Colin McGee picked up his third foul and Johnson brought him to the bench. The Warriors continued on without missing a beat. Back-to-back baskets by Button at the 4:21 mark put Winamac up 38-27. Just over two minutes later another traditional three by Fox put the Warriors in front 41-30 as they go on to take a 45-35 lead into the final quarter.
Things got a little interesting in the fourth quarter. With Winamac maintaining its lead, Woodlan went to fouling and sending the Warriors to the line to earn their points. At time their free throw shooting was sketchy at best but the Warriors started hitting when they had to. By the 2:20 mark Woodlan had gotten to within 57-54. Winamac had built the lead back up to 70-57 with time winding down but a long desperation bomb by Woodlan’s Kadin Gerig just before the buzzer made it the 70-60 final.
“We all had each other’s backs out there,” Dotlich said. “We knew we had to get the boards and we knew we had to push the ball. We got off to a little bit of a slow start but everybody just turned it up out there. Parker had a bunch of deflections and we knew that if we played good defense that would help to get our offense going.”
Gerig led Woodlan with 19 points while Greg White had 13 and Jaylin Bennett finished with 10 points of his own.
Winamac shot 48 percent from the field on 20-of-42 shooting. They were 5 for 13 from behind the arc while they were 25 of 37 from the stripe (67.6 percent).
Woodlan was also 48 percent from the field at 21 of 44. From 3-point land Woodlan was 8 of 20 for 40 percent and it was 10 of 17 from the line for 59 percent.
“There’s no question for us. We have been preaching that defense is what wins teams championships,” Johnson said. “We gave up a lot more points in that last quarter than I would’ve liked but they just fought. Our kids didn’t let up defensively and Parker really stepped up offensively and his motor got the other kids going too. I thought something that was big for us too was the play of our guys inside. They had some good size to them but our guys got in there and battled against them and we got the win. I’d like for our free-throw percentage to be a little higher but we got to the line 37 times this game and I’ll take that.”