NORTH JUDSON — Winamac’s boys basketball team entered Saturday’s regional having already recorded its first 20-win season in 50 years.
And the Warriors were hoping this would be the year they would win their first regional title since way back in 1932.
But it was not be, as a poor start to the game carried over into the second half. The Warriors fell into too big of a hole and could not fully recover in a 73-59 loss to LaVille in a Class 2A North Judson Regional semifinal game.
The Warriors came out cold missing their first six shots of the game. But they trailed just 11-9 after one quarter as LaVille’s Kyle Kopetski sank a corner jumper right before the buzzer sounded.
“After all that in the first quarter we were still down 2 with a shot at the end of the quarter,” Winamac coach Kyle Johnson said.
But uncharacteristic turnovers kept mounting for the Warriors. They committed 12 in the first half alone and found themselves in a 32-18 hole at the break. They also hit just 7 of 20 from the field.
“A lot of those turnovers were right point-blank. We were trying to make that extra pass right inside,” Johnson said. “Honestly that’s almost a credit to them because they were almost being a little too unselfish at that time. It turned into a couple turnovers, more than we’ve had in any half all season long.
“It’s a positive and negative for sure. It’s positive they were doing what I wanted and making the extra pass but sometimes that point-blank one has got to be put in. And some of those point-blank ones we couldn’t finish on.”
The Warriors also battled heavy foul trouble in the first half but were still within striking distance at minus-14.
“It’s real tough on us when we’ve got guys like we did in foul trouble. I think we had four starters on the bench in the first half,” Johnson said. “So I felt comfortable coming out at half because I knew those guys had a shot but we just couldn’t get it going as well as I wanted and I just couldn’t get them in as good of positions as I wanted them to get in.”
The turnovers continued in the second half as the Warriors committed five in the first six minutes of the third quarter. Three of the turnovers were on offensive foul calls. The Warriors were called for four offensive fouls in the game, three on charges.
Meanwhile, Adam Steinke scored three field goals to lead an efficient LaVille team out of the break and the Lancers opened up a 44-21 lead with 2:00 left in the third.
The Warriors battled back. Derek Dotlich scored on a putback and followed with a 3-pointer. Jeff Nies came up with a steal and score right before the buzzer to bring the Warriors to within 44-28 entering the fourth.
Winamac got to within 48-37 on an Adam Gruenig jumper with 5:55 remaining.
A Dotlich 3-pointer cut the lead to 64-52 with 1:50 left to play and he had another look from 3 that could have cut the lead to 9 but it was just off.
A 3-pointer by Ben Gudas cut the lead to 68-57 with 50 seconds left but the Warriors would get no closer the rest of the way.
The Warriors were able to overcome a 15-point second-half deficit in the sectional championship win over Rensselaer but the 23-point second-half deficit proved to be too much to overcome against LaVille.
“I always tell them I don’t get uncomfortable in deficits because it’s going to be a great story. I wanted it to be a storybook ending but it wasn’t,” Johnson said. “But they battled extremely hard. We got some deflections. They just did such a good job getting the ball to [Blake] Berger that it was tough to foul some different guys. All the credit to them.”
Berger scored 19 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter to lead LaVille. He was 16 of 23 from the foul line for the game and 11 of 17 in the fourth quarter.
LaVille finished 25 of 40 from the line for the game and 17 of 28 in the fourth to hold off Winamac. The Warriors were just 10 of 18 from the line for the game.
Kopetski scored 14 and was 3 of 7 from 3 for LaVille. Steinke had 11 points. Jason Breden added eight.
Dotlich had 16 points and nine rebounds to lead Winamac. Gruenig scored 10. Fox had nine and Gudas and Colin McGee each added seven.
Earlier this season Winamac caught LaVille on an off night. The Lancers were able to catch the Warriors on an off night Saturday afternoon against their future Hoosier North Athletic Conference rivals.
“I don’t know how that happened. I think they just had an off night to tell you the truth,” LaVille coach Michael Edison said. “They’re a very well coached team, have a lot of firepower. They’ve got shooters, they’ve got post players, they’ve got a little bit of everything. We just probably caught them on a bad night. They were off a little bit. We were able to get a lead and kind of maintain it, knock in free throws.
“They are a nice team, their record shows it. Even their four losses were close losses and they’re playing tough competition. We’re just very blessed to catch them on an off day.”
The Warriors finish with a 20-5 record. They will graduate six seniors who were part of winning back-to-back sectional titles which were Winamac’s first since going back-to-back in 2001 and 2002.
“I’m proud of my seniors. I’m proud of this whole team. They’ve battled extremely hard. The finality is tough,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to celebrate what those kids did. Our senior class has done so much these last four years getting the Winamac basketball program on the map.
“I think we’re a team that plays extremely hard and I don’t think people necessarily want to play us. I hope we can continue that with the young guys and just thank the seniors for helping us make that happen.”
The future remains bright at Winamac.
“I’m very excited. We’ve got a great sophomore class along with Derek Dotlich and Colin McGee leading those juniors into their senior year. It’ll be very exciting,” Johnson said. “But it’s hard to realize because we were all wishing and hoping and praying that we might be playing in the late game tonight with an opportunity to move on, but we’ll grow from it.”
LaVille was defeated by Hammond Noll 43-39 in the regional final Saturday night. LaVille finishes 21-7.
Noll (13-13) will play Frankton (25-2) in semistate play.