by Jason Herd
For the Pharos-Tribune
One year ago, Ben Snyder’s Caston Comets had a chance to claim the Midwest Conference title outright.
A trip to Winamac changed all that, and they were forced to share the championship with Pioneer after a five-point loss to the Warriors.
Similar circumstances surrounded this same matchup Tuesday night, as any hopes of sharing a third straight conference crown would come down to their final regular season game. Coming off a sound thumping by a red-hot Pioneer squad, Winamac hoped to rebound and play the spoiler role once more.
Despite a slow start, Caston outscored the Warriors 21-6 in the second period and came away with a 50-32 victory on senior night.
Looking out of sync to start the game, the Comets fell behind by 5 with 3:11 to play after Parker Fox scored on a putback. Jake Howdeshell and Corey Moss responded with 3s, but Winamac showed range of its own when sophomore Adam Gruenig connected from long distance with :37 left. Howdeshell answered with another 3 at the buzzer to draw the deficit to one at 12-11. That trey started a 17-0 Caston run, and Winamac wouldn’t recover.
Howdeshell gave the Comets their first and final lead with a 3 just 13 seconds into the second period. Defensive pressure was the key to a productive quarter, as Alex Howdeshell’s steal led to a 3 by fellow sophomore Dustin Offenberger with 6:34 left. Quentin Douglass went to work on both ends as well, causing a defensive 5-second call, then scoring five consecutive points by penetrating the lane. Dalton Button halted the run with a putback at the 4:16 mark, but Howdeshell drilled back-to-back 3s to kick the lead back up to 13. Offenberger struck again from long distance, giving Caston its biggest lead of the half at 31-16.
After a Levi Schultz basket at the 5:09 mark, Howdeshell drained his sixth 3 of the game a few seconds later. The senior finished his phenomenal regular season with a game-high 22 points.
Junior J.T. Garnett hit two threes in the period, the second of which drew the Warriors to within 8 at the 1:18 mark. Douglass stretched the lead back to 10 with two free throws as the quarter ended. He finished with 13 points in the game to go with a strong defensive effort.
After missing two free throws to start the fourth, Moss responded by dishing to Alex Howdeshell for a layup to extend the lead back to 14 at the 5:21 mark. The Comets finished strong defensively, holding Winamac to just four points in the final quarter, all free throws.
“We definitely have a chip on our shoulder every night,” Moss said. “Our team defense and ball pressure has been the key to our 15 wins.”
Snyder added, “This is a special group of seniors. They’re 18-3 in Midwest Conference play over the last three years. Their hard work represents the culture we’ve been able to establish here.”
The Comets (15-6, 6-1 MWC) will be rooting for Tri-County on Friday when Pioneer visits Wolcott.
The Comets will face Pioneer next Tuesday night at 6 p.m. in the first round of the West Central Sectional.
Winamac (7-12, 3-4) travels to Rensselaer on Friday to conclude its regular season.