Wawasee sophomore Olivia Horn (left) makes a move along the sideline but is not given any room to operate by Whitko senior Brookelynn Coburn (right) during Wawasee’s 54-41 victory over Whitko Tuesday night. Photos by Gary Nieter
Wawasee sophomore Olivia Horn (left) makes a move along the sideline but is not given any room to operate by Whitko senior Brookelynn Coburn (right) during Wawasee’s 54-41 victory over Whitko Tuesday night. Photos by Gary Nieter
It was a tale of two halves at the Hardwood Teepee Tuesday night as the Wawasee Warriors girls’ basketball team hosted the Whitko Lady ‘Cats in a nonconference showdown. The first half was a grind controlled by the visitors before a strong second half from the Warriors proved to be the difference in a 54-41 victory for Wawasee.

Both sides took a little while after the initial tipoff to settle in. For a majority of the first quarter, neither team was able to generate much efficient offense. With both defenses making an effort to clog up the paint, most of the first-period offense was spent around the perimeter, with both the Warriors and Lady ‘Cats doing more passing of the ball than shooting.

Both teams struggled to play defense without fouling in the opening minutes as well, as both sides quickly stacked up the fouls in the first quarter. Despite the Wawasee press causing some pressure at times, it was Whitko that held a five-point lead after a quarter thanks to some strong finishing around the rim.

The second period of action featured more urgency from the Warriors, who demonstrated their resiliency in the opening minutes of the quarter with four quick points. The second quarter featured the same back-and-forth action the first did, highlighted by a sequence in which Whitko guard Kloe Krieg and Wawasee forward Brooklynn Gibson traded deep three-pointers.

Krieg, one of the Lady ‘Cats top scorers, had it going all night long. Using a combination of strong outside shooting as well as some toughness inside required to get to the free throw line, Krieg was a force for Wawasee to deal with throughout the course of the game, finishing with a game-high 20 points.

“She hit a couple of shots that I thought were lapses by us, but a lot more were contested that she knocked down. She’s a tremendous player,” Wawasee head coach Derek Gilreath said.

Gilreath’s team played its signature offense all game long, using quick passes to create open shots. As has been the case all season long, the unselfishness with the basketball led to three players scoring in double figures. Junior Kaydence Shepherd did most of her damage in the first half, ending her night with 14 points and four steals. Sophomore Olivia Horn picked up the pace in the second half, scoring most of her 14 points and grabbing a large chunk of her 10 rebounds in the final 16 minutes. Mackenzie Hackleman rounded out the home team’s top scorers list with 12 points.

While Wawasee was able to chip away at Whitko’s lead and tie the game at 23 with just over a minute to go in the half, the Warriors were unable to take their first lead of the game in the opening 16 minutes. Whitko would take a lead into the halftime break as the team’s leading scorer, Braisha Harrison, nailed a three at the buzzer.

“We were out of control in that first half,” Gilreath said. “We were doing a lot of things that we don’t usually do. We had a gameplan going in but it just wasn’t yielding the results we wanted.”

Wawasee was able to get out in front not long into the third quarter. It was a complete turnaround from the Warrior team that took the floor in the first half, as the home team came out with purpose in the second. Determined to win the hustle battle, Wawasee seemed to get every loose ball, came down with every rebound and beat Whitko up and down the floor on almost every possession. Using a 11-3 run to start the third, the Warriors were in business.

“We did a great job of taking care of the ball in the second half, setting our feet, taking our time. It obviously made all the difference. We’re a quick, athletic team and when we can start playing a full-court game, we really excel.” Gilreath said.

To make matters worse for the Lady ‘Cats, the foul issues returned in a big way. Whitko committed its seventh team foul of the half with over a minute to go in the third quarter, giving Wawasee a plethora of opportunities at the charity stripe for the remainder of the contest. Despite a great period from the home side, a Krieg three would beat the buzzer and shrink the Warrior lead to three at 38-35 heading into the final eight minutes of action.

“Once they started fouling, I told the girls we needed to be aggressive on the dribble,” Gilreath said. “The girls did a great job of being strong down low.”

The status quo didn’t change much in the final quarter, as Wawasee was able to not only hold on but extend its lead as the game approached its end. The Warriors stayed aggressive and were able to continue getting to the free throw line at will, causing their lead to inflate to double figures with just two minutes left.

Wawasee (10-10) plays its final Northern Lakes Conference game on Saturday at Plymouth while Whitko (7-10) travels to Maconaquah Thursday. A win for the Warriors this weekend will clinch the first top-three finish in the conference for Wawasee since the team won it in the 2008-2009 season.

“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” Gilreath said. “Plymouth does a lot of things well so we’re going to have to be ready, but I think if we do what we did well tonight again, we should be in good shape.”