Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union

Senior Thane Creager of Manchester puts up a running shot during Tuesday night's home game against Whitko.
Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union Senior Thane Creager of Manchester puts up a running shot during Tuesday night's home game against Whitko.
NORTH MANCHESTER – Host Manchester entered the fourth quarter trailing Three Rivers Conference rival Whitko 46-30 courtesy of a 32-8 run from 6:30 in the second quarter until the end of the third period.

Rattled by cold outside shooting and an aggressive 2-3 zone by the visiting Wildcats, the hosts had eight minutes to muster a come-back. A 20-9 fourth quarter run wasn’t enough to overtake Whitko. The Wildcats clinched a 55-50 win to improve their record to 9-12 overall and 6-3 in the TRC. Manchester fell to 9-12 and 4-5 in conference play.

The visitors from Whitley County were up 51-37 before junior swingman Max Carter scored on two free throws and a 3-point bucket to whittle the lead to 51-42.

Whitko coach Eli Henson said, “we knew they would put a run together and score some points. (Manchester) hadn’t been playing well recently, and we weren’t surprised they turned it around tonight.”

The Squires used the strategy of “hack a ‘Cat” as they continued to foul their guests until they were forced into the bonus situation at the free throw line. Whitko missed four free throws down the stretch, and Manchester found itself within three, 53-50 when Carter added to his earlier run with 12.3 seconds on the clock. Whitko’s junior standout, Brett Sickafoose hit two free throws to make the final score 55-50.

It was the host Squires who came out with the hot hand in the first quarter, 19-14, hitting three 3-pointers and getting 8 points inside from senior center Kreeden Krull. The Wildcats had all their output between two players (Sickafoose, hitting 9 of his game 28 points, Drake Lewis netting 5).

It looked like more of the same momentum for Manchester after Wes Hamby opened second quarter scoring with another 3-point bucket to push the host’s lead to 22-14. The relentless Wildcats settled down inside with the defensive efforts of sophomore William Rickerd, sophomore Mason Streby, and junior Cameron Sapp. They combined for 12 rebounds after they tightened up under the rim. The trio neutralized Krull for the next 14 ½ minutes while Sickafoose and Lewis shut down Manchester’s sharpshooting duo of Hamby and Thane Creager. The two guards average 11.9 points per game but were held to six and eight points respectively.

Coach Henson said, regarding the 32-8 run giving the Wildcats their largest lead of the game (46-30), “(Manchester) was hitting outside shots early and getting inside shots as well. We settled down and protected the rim, so they weren’t comfortable inside anymore. They lost their touch outside, too.”

Manchester had seven and four points respectively in the second and third quarters. They did not hit any outside shots in the third quarter.

Henson added, “We made them uncomfortable in the run, and they even looked uncomfortable shooting outside. We had guys in the 2-3 zone ready to double team the ball.”

The victors were led by Sickafoose’s 28 points including four 3-point baskets and 6 rebounds, followed by Lewis’s 10 points (two 3s), Rickerd (7 points, 6 rebounds), and Kylar Bryant (3 points). Manchester was led by Krull (17 points, 12 rebounds), Carter (16 points, 5 rebounds), and Austin Underwood (3 points) to go along with the efforts of Creager and Hamby.

Manchester hosts Mississenawa Friday night for Senior night, then moves on to the sectional they’ll host Tuesday March 3rd vs. Fort Wayne Canterbury. Whitko hosts Heritage for their final home game, then faces 2A #2 Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian Wednesday March 4th in their sectional opener.

Whitko won the JV contest in overtime 45-43 with two free throws by Aiden Hoffman, who led their scoring efforts with 14 points, with 0.9 seconds remaining. He was aided by Keith Miller and David Ousley (10 points each), Slater Craig (6), Dale Reiff (3), and Brent Bowers (2). Scoring leaders for the hosts were Gabriel Case (14 points), Maddox Zolman (13), Brayden Jones and Luke Ramer (7 apiece), and Carter Bedke (2).