Photo by Gary Nieter/Times-Union
Senior Ben Bergen of Warsaw drives past Columbia City's Andrew Hedrick en route to the basket during Saturday night's game. Bergen finished with a career high 12 points and 6 rebounds.
Photo by Gary Nieter/Times-Union Senior Ben Bergen of Warsaw drives past Columbia City's Andrew Hedrick en route to the basket during Saturday night's game. Bergen finished with a career high 12 points and 6 rebounds.
COVID-19 protocols resulted in the continued non-availability of four seniors for Saturday night’s boys’ basketball clash with the Columbia City Eagles. One has to wonder if one of the other two available seniors, guard Ben Bergen, said something to the effect of “Hold my Gatorade!” in the pregame huddle because he turned in his best career performance to lead the Warsaw Tigers to a 50-45 win, pushing the squad to 2-0.

Bergen’s 12 points (3-5 from the field, an impressive 6-7 from the charity stripe), 6 rebounds (2 off the offensive glass) and solid defensive play were crucial in a win showcasing seven second half lead changes and five ties. One of Bergen’s offensive boards was an impressive in-flight tip-in zooming in from the left baseline.

The other senior on the court, Luke Adamiec, added 10 points including a huge breakaway bucket on a steal (one of three snares for the night) assuring the seventh lead change of the game would be the final lead change in a crowd-energizing fourth quarter.

The ever-so-quotable 6’4” wing said, “I knew we needed to make a play. Our team fought hard to get back in the game. I used my hands, and magic happened.”

Columbia City gave Warsaw fits running out to a 6-0 advantage before finishing the first stanza in front, 15-10. Warsaw outscored the eagles 15-14 in the second period to close to within four trailing 29-25 at the half. The Tigers used their superior depth, and aggressive defense in the second half to take the lead, 36-34 at the end of the third stanza, holding the Eagles to 5 points in that frame.

“City”, following a 47% shooting effort in the first half, only hit 30% (6-20) of their second half shots.

Junior guard Judah Simfukwe shared scoring honors with Bergen, adding 12 points on 5-7 shooting from the field, and two free throws.

The Warsaw trio nailed a combined 13-23 (57%) from the field and 8-12 (67%) from the free throw line. The rest of the Tigers were 4-16 (25%), from the field and 7-14 (50%) from the line. Altogether the Tigers were 17-39, 44%, from the field including 1-7 outside the arc, and 15-26 from the free throw line.

Scratch the surface, and as a result, the noted comparison doesn’t disparage the remainder of the team’s collective effort. Instead, it was testimony to the rest of the squad finding ways, other than offense, to contribute to the victory. Additionally, it reflects Columbia City’s preparation, and solid defense. The Eagles afforded their hosts very few uncontested Tiger buckets, but Warsaw was able to take care of the basketball with only 8 turnovers for the contest.

Tiger Coach Matt Moore echoed that sentiment, and he commented further on the Tigers’ solid defensive effort saying, “I thought we did a good job in the second half just buckling down and playing possession by possession. This is the second team in a row we held under 40%. We weren’t much better offensively but we didn’t’ turn the ball over much. Again, they ‘stayed on the rock’, an expression we use. I’m proud of Ben Bergen’s defensive effort. I thought Judah (Simfukwe) guarded very, very well.

Moore continued, “It was next man up. Even Drew Heckaman’s six minutes were a big part of the effort. Those are valuable in a game that comes down to the last quarter. The whole group is tough, and we’re gonna keep staying in games.”

Warsaw’s depth was certainly a contributor to its victory, most notably its collective ball handling, and defense. Their opponent’s bench did not score the entire evening.

The Eagles connected on 15-39 from the field, 3-12 beyond the arc, and hit 12 of 18 free throws. Forwards Jaxon Crawford (18 points), Mason Baker (14 points) and guard Andrew Hedrick (10 points) led the offensive charge for the guests. The trio accounted for 42 of 45 Columbia City’s total points.

Another takeaway for Warsaw, despite its woes at the charity stripe, were their 26 attempts for the night resulting from their ability to move to the basket aggressively to draw fouls from “City.”

Coach Moore’s thoughts on next Friday and Saturday’s games at Homestead and Huntington North, respectively were, “We’ll look at, offensively, how we can get better looks. When it doesn’t happen right away, we bail on things. We need to get deeper into possessions to get some quality shots and some reversals.”

Warsaw scoring was rounded out by Jackson Dawson (6 points), Jaxon Gould (5 points), Russ Winchester (4 points and a game-leading 7 rebounds), and Heckaman’s 1 point.

The JV Tigers moved to 2-0 with a 57-40 win. Kyle Dawson led the way with 16 points along with freshman soccer standout Julian Saldivar (12 points). Fellow freshman Isaiah Lara added 9 points, and Warsaw wing Isaiah Courtois, whose frame harkens memories of bulky big man, Wes Unseld, channeled Unseld’s passing skills with 7 assists.