Freshman Alexis Neeley of Warsaw drives to the basket during Friday night's sectional game against Elkhart at the Concord sectional. Photos by Gary Nieter
Freshman Alexis Neeley of Warsaw drives to the basket during Friday night's sectional game against Elkhart at the Concord sectional. Photos by Gary Nieter
DUNLAP – Friday night’s Class 4A Sectional 4A semifinal had fans making the usual Tigers versus Lions remarks. There was a different angle to the contest’s outcome, however, in the form of “Stout” defense by the Elkhart Lions in the form of 5’7”junior guard Samiyah Stout and 5’11” freshman center Shaniyah Stout.

Warsaw’s 55-53 season-ending loss to Elkhart was in large part a result of the Stout girls’ defense. Samiyah’s quick hands in the Tiger backcourt (3 steals), and her ability to cut off Tiger hoopsters driving the lane (1 blocked shot and two more where she was whistled for a foul) combined with Shaniyah’s rebounding (10 rebounds).

Throw in another Shaniyah – Shaniyah Hughes whose 11 offensive rebounds contributed to Elkhart’s success with second chance points, and it spelled a rough night for the young Warsaw Lady Tigers.

“When we got good ball movement we took away their ability to defend the basket one-on-one,” Tiger head coach Lenny Krebs said. “Offensively we had good ball and people movement, but when that started to stall, or we started to go one-on-one with our (defender) that’s when we began to struggle.”

Tigers like Joslyn Bricker and Brooke Winchester who have succeeded driving the lane throughout the season were tangling with Lion defenders resulting in less than a handful of easy inside baskets.

Warsaw, in fact, shot better beyond the arc (12-26, 46%), than they did at mid-rage or inside the paint (5-15, 33%). Joslyn Bricker (17 points

Brooke Zartman sped toward Shaniyah Stout and was whistled for an intentional foul. Zartman twisted her ankle on the play. Stout hit the second free throw.

Hughes’s inside bucket with 1:16 remaining stretched the Lions’ lead to 54-50 with 1:16. Tiger freshman Alexis Neely responded quickly with a three-point shot to close the deficit to one point, 54-53, but Elkhart was able to secure the ball most of the remainder of the contest.

The score remained the same until 8 second were on the clock as Warsaw frantically tried to rack up enough fouls to send Shaniyah Stout to the line in hopes they would rebound an errant free throw.

The Lions kept scrambling for, and successfully snaring loose balls off the glass and on the floor.

Stout, who was sent to the line with 8 seconds remaining on a questionable intentional foul committed by Warsaw. The collision appeared more like a result of a sudden burst of speed to get to the ball handler for a foul, and not dirty play.

Stout hit one of two free throws to set the final score at 55-53.

The game started as a youth movement with only one senior starter, Zoe Bergan, among four sophomores, three freshmen, and two juniors. Krebs mentioned his appreciation of Bergan’s long-tern commitment toward excellence in multiple sports.

“When you see kids playing at least one sport for four years and staying with it, you really don’t see that anymore,” Krebs said about Bergan, a three-year starter in soccer and basketball. “She did all the work necessary to be successful on two sports.”

Krebs also mentioned senior Viv Zambrano, who played limited varsity minutes, but contributed to the team’s success in ways the casual observer would miss.

“She came into every game uncertain of how much playing time she would get,” Krebs said. “She contributed at practice making her teammates better. Michael Jordan has said, ‘Your greatness is measured by your ability to make your teammates better,’ and Viv certainly is great by that measure.”

Warsaw started the game struggling against the Lions’ defense, especially on numerous inside shots. Joslyn Bricker found her touch beyond the arc with three 3-point buckets taking the Tigers from a 9-2 deficit onto a 15-8 first quarter run punctuated by Abby Peterson’s game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The battle of the big cats was tied at 17 in the first period, when the Tigers made a 10-4 run to move ahead 27-21 before Elkhart reversed its fortunes forcing turnovers and making Tigers who chose to drive the lane stop dead in their tracks.

Elkhart had the lead and the momentum, 28-27 at halftime. They added another point to that intermission lead closing out the third period ahead 43-41 before the hectic end of the 55-53 win for the Lions (14-9).

They’ll face Northridge, the Northern Lakes Conference runner-up, at 6 p.m. in McCuen Gym.

The victors were led by Samiyah Stout and Jaya Johnson – who stealthily did all the offensive work from beyond the arc – with 16 points apiece.

Warsaw, who ran the table in the NLC for the second consecutive regular season, finished 18-6 in the 2022-2023 campaign. The Tigers were led by Bricker (17 points), Abby Peterson (14 points on 4-6 shooting from 3-point range), and Brooke Winchester (9 points, 7 rebounds)