Warsaw junior Ava Egolf attempts a runner in the first half of the Lady Tiger Tournament championship game against South Bend Washington Friday night. Photos by Gary Nieter
Warsaw junior Ava Egolf attempts a runner in the first half of the Lady Tiger Tournament championship game against South Bend Washington Friday night. Photos by Gary Nieter
With the championship trophy of the Lady Tiger Tournament in attendance, the Warsaw Tigers faced the difficult task of taking down the undefeated South Bend Washington Panthers in order to retain it. The visitors proved to be too much for Warsaw, defeating the Tigers 70-49 to win the six-team tourney. Warsaw is now 12-4.

“The number one thing I was looking for tonight was fight and we showed that tonight,” Warsaw head coach Lenny Krebs said. “The fight we showed is what we need for 32 minutes a night every night going forward to be where we want to be.”

After starting last night’s game against Chesterton with a fast-paced attack, the Tigers did the same to begin the championship bout, with much different results. The high-energy, high-tempo action was exactly what the visitors wanted, as the Panthers we’re uncatchable in transition when reaching the open floor. After just two minutes, Washington had taken a 9-2 lead.

While Warsaw tried many different offensive sets, Washington seemed able to one up them at every turn early on. As the quarter began to roll on, possessions became longer and longer for the Tigers as the team tried to slow down the track meet. The Panthers were ready for that adjustment as well, as the visitors clamped down on ball handlers and swatted away more than a few shots that appeared open at the rim. On far too many possessions, despite moving the ball well and burning some clock, the Tigers were unable to get a shot off.

Trailing by nine heading into the second quarter, Warsaw’s patience began to pay off. Taking sometimes 20-30 seconds for a possession, the Tigers passing became a lot crisper and more urgent, and the team was able to turn the opportunities into some wide open looks.

Despite looking much better offensively, Warsaw struggled to prevent Washington from putting the ball into the hoop. Kira Reynolds, the Panthers 6’3” center, caused problems for the defense throughout the first half before leaving the game in the third with an ankle injury. Even after a three-pointer from Abbey Peterson beat the first half buzzer, Warsaw still found itself trailing by 13 as the two teams headed to their locker rooms.

Things didn’t get much easier as the second half began. Washington blitzed the home team out of the gate to the tune of scoring the first ten points of the quarter in the first two minutes, ballooning the lead to over 20.

Not giving up, the Tigers would answer by scoring the next six to give themselves a fighting chance. The team would shrink the lead to under 20 in the final seconds of the third off of an and-one layup by freshman Joslyn Bricker, a reliable bench scorer who made her first start of the season in this one. She made the most of the opportunity, finishing with a team-high 17 points.

“We felt like we needed an extra ball handler on the floor for this game, and Ava [Egolf] was a great teammate about it, bringing energy off of the bench,” Krebs said. “That tells me our team is really coming together.”

There would be no game-changing run for the Tigers in the fourth and final quarter. The two teams ran out the final eight minutes with Washington in control for most if not all of the time. Unable to repeat as tournament champions, Warsaw watched as the trophy was handed off to the now 17-0 Panthers.

Aside from Bricker, Warsaw had two other scorers reach double figures. Peterson would end her night with 12 points, while freshman Alexis Neely put together a very strong game off of the bench. Neely scored a career-high 12 points and tied Brooke Winchester with five rebounds to lead the team.

“I’m really happy for Alexis, I see that greatness in her and today she stepped up,” Krebs said. “She needed this.”

The Tigers are off until Saturday, Jan 6., when the team will travel to Middlebury for a huge Northern Lakes Conference showdown. Both teams will head into the game with perfect 3-0 conference records, with the winner gaining sole possession of first place.

“I’m taking the position that we’re the champions until somebody knocks us off,” Krebs said. “We haven’t been on the road in a while and obviously Northridge is going to want this as much as we will. Our sights are set.”