Senior Jaxson Gould of Warsaw drives to the basket during Tuesday morning's game against Portage. Photos by Gary Nieter
Senior Jaxson Gould of Warsaw drives to the basket during Tuesday morning's game against Portage. Photos by Gary Nieter
It was a mixed bag for the Warsaw Tigers boys basketball team in their return to the Tiger Den after a lengthy absence. After beating Portage in the opening game of the Tiger Holiday Classic early Tuesday afternoon, Warsaw was unable to go undefeated on the day, falling 59-45 to Harrison in the first meeting in the two school’s histories.

“They were exactly what we thought they were,” Warsaw head coach Matt Moore said. “They were big, they were strong, they were physical and they were well coached. When you play those teams it can expose what you’re not.”

Bodies hitting the floor was the early theme of the game. Both teams had players diving for every loose ball, trying to draw every charge and leaping out of bounds to save possessions. Offense was on the menu for both teams to start, but as the opening period wore on, the visitors were the team that seemed to frequent more successes. Using crisp passing and timely outside shooting, Harrison would jump out to a 9-4 lead three minutes into the game, causing Warsaw to burn an early timeout.

The Tigers biggest issue was the turnovers. More than one easy bucket for the Raiders was created off of a bad pass or a dribbler trying to do too much. Warsaw trailed by six after a quarter and had some serious work to do to get back into the game.

The second period started nicely and saw the Tigers get within four thanks to some crafty offensive play from senior Jaxson Gould, but Harrison was able to shut it down and create more separation. Gould was limited to six points in the game, marking just the third time in the guard’s last 31 games he has been kept under double digit scoring.

Christopher Lucas, the Raiders’ senior point guard, was an issue for Warsaw all night. No matter what kind of shot and no matter how far away it came from, Lucas had everything going in the first half, scoring 12 points. With not much working on either side of the ball, Warsaw would head into the locker room trailing by eleven at halftime.

The third quarter would not offer the Tigers much refuge. Fired up after a good first half, Harrison would explode offensively once again to open the third. Warsaw picked up the pace on its offensive possessions to try and get back into the game quickly, but the Raiders were able to counter each lightning-quick possession with one of their own. Warsaw would go down by as many as 18 in the quarter and would go into the final quarter of play trailing by 16.

“We were fatigued, and I believe that is an excuse that people will want to use at times but I am not going to let my guys use it,” Moore said. “Fatigue is a part of basketball and if you want to play at the next level you have to get through it. They played a game earlier as well and they were crisp.”

The Tigers battled until the final buzzer sounded, desperately trying to create pressure, force turnovers and score some easy points. Sophomore Brandt Martin went on a nice scoring run to end the game to finish with 13 points and earn the title of the Tigers’ leading scorer. Fellow sophomore Trai Davis also had a nice night, scoring seven points and leading the way for Warsaw on the glass with four rebounds.

“Those guys are going to continue to get better. The confidence is there and they excel in every roll we give to them. They’re true team players and I’m excited to see how they improve,” Moore said.

It wasn’t all bad news for Warsaw fans as the Tigers tipped off the tournament in style Tuesday morning, defeating Portage 58-51 to open things up at the Tiger Den. It was Warsaw’s first game at home since defeating Columbia City over Thanksgiving weekend. It was Martin who had the hot hand, pouring in 19 points on six of eight shooting to lead the team in scoring for the first of two straight games. Martin also led the team in steals with two. Gould finished the opener with ten points and four boards, while Drew Hackaman scored eight. Carson Gould led the team with seven rebounds.

The Tigers wrap up 2022 with the final game of the tournament Wednesday night against South Bend Washington. Warsaw defeated South Bend Washington at last year’s Holiday Classic largely in part to a school-record 19-21 shooting from three-point range. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.

“Today is hard but tomorrow is a new opportunity. I hope our leadership comes through and we pull together because that is what it’s going to take,” Moore said. “If the guys in that locker room are who I think they are they’re going to show up ready to go.”