by Rick Conrad
For the Pharos-Tribune
Pioneer made the short trip north on U.S. 35 to take on the Winamac Warriors Friday evening in a Midwest Conference matchup.
Unfortunately for the hosts, the Panthers simply took the Warriors behind the woodshed and showed them why they’re ranked No. 4 in the state in Class A by dishing out a 75-30 beating.
The Panthers (15-3, 6-0 MWC) secured at least a share of the conference title. They can win it outright with a win at Tri-County next Friday. Winamac dropped to 7-11 and 3-3 in the MWC.
This one was over shortly after it got started as the Panthers were a machine clicking on all cylinders.
With Zach Shidler stuck to Carter Skaggs to take away the long bombs, it was Brandon Scruggs and Mitchell Williams picking up the scoring slack in the first half. With Skaggs being denied the outside shot, he took Shidler inside and went to work on the shorter Warrior. Skaggs finished with 18 points in the game but for perhaps the first time this season he was held to zero points from 3-point land. Between Pioneer’s fast start and Winamac turnovers, the Panthers raced out to a 17-5 lead after one quarter of play.
“Coming out we knew they were going to focus their attention on Carter,” Pioneer senior Mitchell Williams said. “That’s when me, Matt [Dorris]and Stephen [Whitlock] just have to step up and provide something for the team, and we just tried to get after it.”
Things didn’t improve any for Winamac in the second quarter as Pioneer continued forcing turnovers on defense, while on offense the barrage continued. Scruggs nailed two from long range in the quarter and the Warriors just couldn’t get anything going on the offensive end of the court. Scruggs finished the first half with 17 points. By halftime the Panthers had built the lead to 39-17.
As if things weren’t bad enough for Winamac, the Warriors went ice cold from the field in the third quarter. They must have felt a lid was on the basket as they misfired from long range as well as from in close. With turnovers continuing and fouls beginning to add up, the hosts watched the Panthers roll to a 56-23 lead at the end of three.
It didn’t get any better in the final quarter for Winamac. Following a mid-court turnover, Shidler was whistled for an intentional foul, his fifth and final, at the 4:29 mark. He followed Skaggs to the basket and hard-fouled the sophomore. Skaggs went to the free throw line and hit 1 of 2 to make it a 66-23 game. At the 3:08 mark Pioneer coach Pat Skaggs removed all starters and with 2:21 to play emptied his bench. All Panthers that dressed for the game played in the contest. Moments later Parker Fox followed Shidler when he collected his fifth at the :55 mark as Pioneer went on to the lopsided win.
“They just played so well against us tonight,” said Winamac coach Kyle Johnson. “On a night when we couldn’t hit a shot they played so well offensively and defensively. And they are such good shot blockers. I just didn’t put our guys in position to play against that smothering defense and that’s something I’m going to have to fix.”
The story of the game had to have been the suffocating defense that Pioneer put on Winamac. The Panthers held Winamac to just 29 percent shooting from the field and a dismal 1 of 21 from behind the arc, while forcing 18 Warrior turnovers. Not helping their cause any, the Warriors committed 24 fouls in the game allowing for 26 points from the free throw line.
“We tried to get it inside but we had trouble getting it in there,” Winamac’s Dalton Button said. “They put unbelievable pressure on the ball all night. Our guys did a nice job on the perimeter, but we were just out of rhythm the whole game.”
Shidler led the Warriors with 11 points in the game. No other Winamac player put up more than four points.
The Panthers had four players finish in double figures. They were led by Scruggs with a game-high 21, while Skaggs finished with 18. Williams finished with 13 while Matt Dorris chipped in 10.
“Scruggs really stepped it up for us in the game,” Pioneer coach Pat Skaggs said. “I think he finished with 21 points, but the bigger thing to me is that he finished with 10 assists. That accounts for a bunch of points. Our defense was solid, but our kids played so unselfishly and played well together. They’re such a good group of kids to coach.”