Warsaw senior Drew Heckaman fades away to create some separation while going up for a shot during Warsaw’s 38-37 win over Plymouth Friday. Heckaman made the game-winning shot with two seconds left. Photos by Gary Nieter
Warsaw senior Drew Heckaman fades away to create some separation while going up for a shot during Warsaw’s 38-37 win over Plymouth Friday. Heckaman made the game-winning shot with two seconds left. Photos by Gary Nieter
PLYMOUTH – The Warsaw Tigers have not struggled much in dealing with their rivals from Plymouth over the last few seasons, winning the previous eight meetings. Though the game was hard fought and for a moment it looked as if the Pilgrims might steal the win, a fadeaway from Tiger senior Drew Heckaman with just two seconds left proved the difference in a 38-37 Warsaw win to make it nine straight over the Pilgrims.

“The guys stayed the course and I couldn’t be prouder of them pulling that one off,” Tiger head coach Matt Moore said after the game. “We wanted Drew going downhill and we got it. We trusted him to make a play and he made one he’s going to remember for a long time.”

It was evident after just a few possessions that scoring would not be easy for either team. Both defenses began the game at a very high level, whether it was being vocal and providing help or jumping passing lanes to tip passes. Each side had more than its fair share of chances early on, but just when it seemed as if a player was about to get a wide open look, a lightning-quick closeout would chase that opportunity away.

The only player who seemed unfazed by the stout defense around him was Heckaman. The 6’4” forward has been on a tear in recent weeks, putting up 25 points in two of his previous three outings. He picked up right where he left off, scoring all five of Warsaw’s first quarter points on his way to a 13-point first half. It didn’t matter if he was shooting from outside or driving to the lane and absorbing contact, Heckaman was a bucket all night long. He finished with 17 points and four steals.

“I told him before the Valpo game that regardless of how things have gone, it’s never too late to be what you should have been,” Moore said. “He’s been exactly that over the past three weeks. He’s engaged, he’s scoring, he’s unselfish. He’s been everything we’ve needed him to be during this stretch.”

Trailing 9-5 after a quarter, the Tigers found some success in the transition game and used it to tie the game with four quick points. The deadlock did not last long though, as Plymouth started causing some problems of its own on the offensive glass. After every missed Pilgrim shot, two to three red and white jerseys were camped under the basket and ready to create a second chance. After a few possessions in a row of being burned by put-backs, the Tiger defense was able to adjust and make life a little more difficult for those going up.

“Their guards were very physical and we didn’t do a great job of following them at first,” Moore admitted. “But we adjusted and had what I thought was a nice game defensively. Sometimes it’s not pretty but as long as the game ends and you’ve got one more point than them, we’ll take it.”

The Tigers were finally able to break through and take their first lead of the night with under a minute to go in the first half thanks to a nice series by Heckaman. After a nifty move caught his defender in the air and awarded him two free throws, the senior would split the pair. On the ensuing possession, he would steal a pass in the backcourt, take it all the way and punctuate the effort with an emphatic slam dunk. After a Pilgrim layup went through with just a second left on the clock, the Tigers took a slim one-point lead into the locker room.

The offense that Warsaw found at the end of the first half remained as the two teams began the second. The Tigers ripped off five straight points, including Jaxson Gould’s first three of the game. Combined with the team’s shutdown defense, Warsaw was able to extend their lead for the first time in the game.

After holding the Pilgrims to just six points in the fourth and taking an eight-point lead into the final period, it looked to be smooth sailing for Warsaw. It wasn’t. The offense went cold again, and while Plymouth’s wasn’t much better, the home side got the benefit of more than a few foul calls going their way. By the time the halfway mark for the quarter was reached, Plymouth was shooting two free throws for each foul called on Warsaw.

The Pilgrims would make the most of their charity stripe shots and slowly but surely kept creeping closer and closer, culminating in the second to last possession of the game. Trailing by one with 10 seconds left, the Plymouth point guard made a move towards the basket, fully extended his arm and pushed Gould away to create some space. Somehow, some way, Gould was called for the foul, his fifth of the game. Plymouth would make both free throws and take its first lead of the second half with just seconds remaining.

It did not matter. After a quick timeout, the Tigers inbounded the ball to Heckaman, who raced the full length of the court. Once he got to the free throw line he stopped, pivoted, looked like he might pass the ball for a split second before fading away and burying the midrange jumper. Plymouth would attempt to throw the inbounds pass cross court but it was sent away by Carson Gould to end the game and give the Tigers win number 84 in the series against their rivals.

“We got the shot we wanted. Drew did a great job of shrugging off his defenders and creating some space,” Moore said.

Juniors Andrew Potter and Luke Yeager each had six points to finish as the Tigers’ second and third leading scorers.

The Tigers (13-8, 5-2 Northern Lakes Conference) have an extended stretch off, eleven days, before wrapping up the regular season at home against Tippecanoe Valley on February 21 and Carroll on February 23.

“Those are two really quality opponents coming up, we’ve got Senior Night coming up, but for now we’re going to take a little break, get our bodies rested and hopefully start gearing up for a tournament run come the first of March.”