Tiger sophomore Luke Bricker rises up for a three point shot. Bricker hit five threes in the game and led all scorers with 21 points. Photos by Gary Nieter
Tiger sophomore Luke Bricker rises up for a three point shot. Bricker hit five threes in the game and led all scorers with 21 points. Photos by Gary Nieter
Warsaw and Northridge, two teams that routinely finish near or at the top of the Northern Lakes Conference, met Friday night at the Tiger Den with the common goal of snapping short losing streaks. After 32 minutes of play, it would be the Tigers sending their home crowd happy after a big third quarter created enough of a cushion for the team to hold onto a 47-41 victory.

Each team had its difficulties scoring the ball in the first half, causing the game to remain exceptionally close throughout the first 16 minutes of play. After four minutes of play, both sides had only made one shot from the field. For Warsaw, early intensity on defense paid dividends immediately, as the Raiders struggled to get shots up over the lengthy Tiger defenders.

Senior leaders Jaxson Gould and Drew Heckaman did not start the game for Warsaw, but both got to see some action not long after the initial tipoff. Gould would check in two minutes into the game, Heckaman two minutes afterwards.

“We were trying to maximize our minutes everywhere, and I know what I’m going to get out of those two,” Warsaw head coach Matt Moore said. “I thought both of them added a ton of value tonight.”

Sophomore Luke Bricker, who started in place of Gould, made the most of his opportunity. Bricker was lights out shooting the ball all night long, picking up the offensive slack early on. The guard scored the Tigers’ first eight points of the game, put up 14 in the first half and finished with 21 on five made three pointers.

“He understands what he does well and he lives there. It puts a ton of pressure on opponents when he starts feeling it,” Moore said. “When he’s making those shots, we’re a unique team to have to defend against.”

Leading by four going into the second quarter, Warsaw suffered its worst scoring drought of the game, going the first 4:45 of the period without putting any points on the board. Northridge was able to capitalize on their opponents’ troubles, fighting back to take their first lead of the game with just over two and a half minutes to go in the half. It would only last seconds however, as Bricker would drain a pair of threes to answer and give the Tigers the lead once more.

The Raiders answered the punch in the mouth with a counter of their own, scoring the last six points of the quarter, including a tough jumper that went through the net as time expired, taking a two-point lead into the locker room at the half.

It was Warsaw’s turn to answer back as the third quarter began. A quick four points from sophomore Trai Davis would give the Tigers the lead back. The lightning-quick guard would follow it up with a steal and a crisp pass to Gould, who would hit a three for his first points of the game. Another three from Bricker moments later would begin to open it up for the relentless Warsaw side.

We just continued to play our game. We were talking, playing physical and we were getting the first miss,” Moore said. “We were able to string together some points in transition and when we’re able to that it makes the whole game easier.”

With a fire lit underneath them, the Tigers would go up by double digits with just over three minutes left in the third. A late three by Northridge would make it a nine-point game as both teams prepared for the final eight minutes of play.

For the first few minutes of the fourth, neither team showed many signs of life. With each side going through the motions, Warsaw was able to maintain its lead. As time began to wind down, it was the Raiders who would make the first move. Struggling to get the lead below eight for what felt like an eternity, Northridge finally would break through in the final four minutes. Using lockdown defense and tough shot-making, the Raiders found themselves down just four with two minutes to go. Warsaw would have to close the game out without Gould, who fouled out with eight points.

Up by just two with less than thirty seconds to go and with the pressure on, Warsaw was able to beat the full-court press with no more than a second to spare, getting the ball into the hands of sophomore Brandt Martin for two huge free throws. With ice in his veins, Martin made both, putting the Tigers up four with less than 20 seconds to go. It would be enough to seal the deal.

“We wanted to not make it a bigger situation than it needed to be. We passed the balls to open guys and knocked down our free throws when they mattered most,” Moore said.

Warsaw returns to action on Tuesday, when the team hosts Penn in a special tribute game to former head coach Al Rhodes. The game will be held at the Old Tiger Den at Lakeview Middle School.

“Al has meant so much to me and I think playing the game there will be great for our community, but make no mistake. We’re coming to compete and test ourselves against one of the top teams in the state,” Moore said.