by Rick Conrad
For the Pharos-Tribune
What a wild one this game was! Two young but talented squads going at it for a full 32 minutes. Nobody told either team that games aren’t typically this exciting with teams this young, but Winamac and North White delivered in a big way Thursday night in Winamac.
When the final horn sounded the host Warriors claimed the MWC contest 59-56.
“That was a quality team we faced,” Winamac coach Kyle Johnson said. “North White has a heck of a team and we’re pretty lucky to come away with the win. But we had some kids grow up [Thursday].”
Things didn’t begin so well for the Warriors early in the contest. After jumping out to a 7-4 lead just 4:31 into the game, Winamac’s Levi Schultz was called for an intentional foul when Caleb Hendress stole the ball and converted both free throws to bring the Vikings to within 7-6. Luke Diener then hit the go-ahead basket on their next possession and the Vikings were on their way to a 14-0 run after the foul call. A Jeremy Bentle bucket with :24 to go ended the drought for Winamac, but after the first quarter North White was on top 20-9.
A spirited talk by Johnson in the huddle between quarters really sparked the Warriors from that point on. In the past this young group would’ve played to survive and to keep the game close. But as Johnson said, “some kids grew up.” The team that took the floor in the second quarter started playing like a team trying to win a basketball game. The Warriors went on a short 7-0 run and Adam Gruening started heating up from long range. Following his second 3-pointer at the 1:45 mark of the second, Winamac had erased the deficit and tied the game at 26-26. Some strong minutes given by Dalton Button and some key free throws by the sophomore allowed Winamac to take a 32-26 lead into the break.
“We just executed the things that we’d been working on in practice and it allowed us to get some open looks,” said Gruening when asked about the looks he was getting at the basket. “We were just able to knock some down.”
It didn’t take North White long to tie the game at 34-34 early in the third quarter. Winamac was able to extend it back out to 38-34 when Gruening again dialed long distance, giving Winamac its largest lead of the night at 41-34. The Vikings then started showing the crowd they had some offense too and quickly chipped away at the lead. Thanks to a defensive lapse by the Warriors, with time winding down, big Oscar Maravilla was found wide open inside for an easy basket to give North White a 42-41 lead going into the wild final quarter.
Winamac fell behind early but Gruening’s fourth 3-pointer of the game evened things up at 48-48 with 5:50 to go. Winamac’s Zach Shidler stole the ball on the Vikings’ next possession and raced down court for his first points of the night. The senior ended the game with 11 points, all coming in the final quarter.
Winamac built its lead back up to 54-48, but back-to-back fouls on the Warriors allowed the Vikings to close to within 54-52 with 53 seconds left to play. At the :25 mark Shidler completed a traditional three-point play making it 57-53. Viking reserve Dalton Fleck hit from 23 feet out to bring North White to within one at 57-56 with :06 to go. On the in-bounds play, J.T. Garnett was fouled and calmly hit both freebies to seal the win for the Warriors.
Maravilla led North White with a game-high 17 points while Luke Diener and Caleb Hendress had 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Gruening led the way for the Warriors with 12 points while Shidler added 11. Jeremy Bentle chipped in nine of his own.
“Our team chemistry has gotten a lot better and I thought we really had each other’s back,” Bentle said. “It just nice to have a Warrior win.”
The Warriors improved to 6-9 and 2-2 in the Midwest Conference with the win. They travel to South Newton on Saturday afternoon for a chance to pick up two quick MWC wins.
North White dropped to 7-10 and 2-4.