Sophomore Carson Gould of Warsaw squares up to the basket during Tuesday night's sectional game against Northridge. Photos by Gary Nieter
Sophomore Carson Gould of Warsaw squares up to the basket during Tuesday night's sectional game against Northridge. Photos by Gary Nieter
The opening night of sectional play from North Side Gym in Elkhart was the last night of the Warsaw Tigers’ season. After struggling for three quarters, the Tigers staged a furious comeback in the fourth that came up just short in the team’s 55-51 loss to Northridge Tuesday night.

“Obviously it’s a disappointing ending but our guys competed for all 32 minutes,” Tiger head coach Matt Moore. “Credit to Northridge, especially at the end. We had a ton of opportunities but we didn’t capitalize on enough of them.”

From the moment the opening tip occurred, the Tigers were faced with a smothering defense every time the team possessed the ball. The Northridge zone caused a plethora of problems for Warsaw, not allowing an iota of space for any player that happened to have the ball in his hands. The defense was so effective that more than a handful of Tiger possessions in the early going lasted for 20-30 seconds and sometimes even longer. Because of this tough nosed defensive approach, the Raiders were able to open the contest on a 12-4 run. It didn’t help that senior Drew Heckaman, who has been a revelation over the last month of the season, picked up two fouls in the first two minutes.

The two sides were playing different games. As the Tigers struggled on one end to get a shot up in the first place, Northridge was able to get whatever they wanted on the offensive end, whether the shot came from in the paint or beyond the perimeter. Despite the early issues, the Gould brothers, Jaxson and Carson, were able to put the ball into the bottom of the net a couple of times and shrink the deficit to four heading into the second.

The Tiger defense came alive to start the quarter, now making the Raiders work as hard as Warsaw had for the first eight minutes. Using the size of center Luke Yeager and the speed of guard Trai Davis, the Tigers were able to string together enough stops to tie the game at 15 on a runner from Jaxson Gould. After being held scoreless for the first four minutes of the period, the Raiders responded in a massive way. Turning the tables, Northridge was able to hold the Tigers scoreless for the final four minutes while ripping off an extended run that saw the visitors on the scoreboard take a seven-point lead into halftime. Having weathered an early storm already, Warsaw would need to do so once again in order to keep its season alive.

“Sometimes we get sped up a little bit, it’s hard to replicate this intensity for guys who have never played in a sectional before,” Moore said. “I thought we were fortunate to be down seven at the half all things considered.”

It looked like it might happen after the first few seconds of the third, as Yeager was able to split a couple of defenders and get his team on the board in a hurry. The rest of the quarter wasn’t as kind to Warsaw, as the Tigers’ offensive woes continued. Whether it was the tough Northridge zone, unforced turnovers or offensive fouls, little was done to chip into the Raider lead. Northridge was able to grow its lead to double figures on numerous occasions, but had to settle for a seven-point advantage as Brandt Martin hit a long three at the buzzer.

The last-second shot lit a fire under the Tigers, as Warsaw came out possessed to begin the fourth quarter. The first five points of the period belonged to the home team. The heroics of Jaxson continued well into the fourth, as it seemed that his teammates deferred to him on almost every possession. He was up for the task, scoring 18 points in the game to lead his team.

After the initial scare, the Raiders were able to stay ahead with success at the free throw line. Into the bonus at the end of the third quarter, Northridge got plenty of opportunities at the charity stripe and made the most of them. Using freebies as well as some more timely outside shooting, the visitors were able to get their lead back up to nine with just over three minutes left to play.

Warsaw would not hold up the white flag just yet though. A couple of nice defensive stops led to easy baskets that put the Tigers within three with just under a minute remaining. With the game hanging in the balance, a questionable decision was made by the referees. With Northridge trapped on their own end, one ref signaled for an offensive foul that would have given the Tigers the ball back. Another called for a Raider timeout, which was granted. On the ensuing play, Gould would foul out of the game.

Despite the loss of their captain, the Tigers continued to fight. Threes from Heckaman and Luke Bricker shrunk the deficit to one with just 20 seconds left. After a pair of made free throws brought the lead back up to three, the Raiders chose to foul Carson Gould to force two free throws instead of taking chances with a three-point shot. Gould made the first and intentionally missed the second, but no Tiger was able to grab the board. After two more foul shots, Northridge was moving on.

Martin scored eleven points for Warsaw while Bricker added seven, all coming in the second half, to round out the Tigers’ top three scorers.

Warsaw ends its year with a 15-10 record. The team graduates three seniors this year, Jaxson Gould, Heckaman and Will Bergen.

“These are hard nights in the locker room,” Moore said. “For our younger guys, this was a gut check. Offseason work is going to be crucial. Older doesn’t mean better, better means better. Our program needs to get a lot better.”