BLUFFTON – Overcoming a very shaky first quarter, the Whitko Wildcats boys basketball team eventually settled into a groove, defeating South Adams 49-36 in the first round of IHSAA Class 2A Sectional 36.

The first quarter was not the Wildcats friend in this one. Whitko was very sloppy passing the ball, resulting in turnovers and far too many possessions without a shot being taken. On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats played pretty tough against every opposing player not named Treyton Schoch. The senior guard torched Whitko for South Adams first ten points of the game.

After scoring just four points in the opening period, the Wildcats would come out sharper and more aggressive in the second. The team would eclipse its first quarter scoring total in just two and a half minutes. After coming in as a substitution late in the first, senior Slater Craig offered Whitko the boost it needed, scoring five straight points on his way to finishing the first half with six, his total for the game.

But every time the Wildcats would creep closer, the Starfires would answer with a bucket of their own. The two teams traded buckets until the halftime whistle, with South Adams holding a 16-14 advantage.

Both versions of the Wildcats showed up in the third period. Craig was subjected to two early foul calls, taking him out of the game with the offense struggling. Whitko would not make its first third-quarter basket until the 4:30 mark in the period. But good defense kept the team in the game.

With about half of the third quarter remaining, the Wildcats turned it on. Freshman Riley Harman started a run by sinking a three-pointer, and the spark was contagious. Whitko would go on a 12-0 run, highlighted by an and-one by senior Ryan Brown to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game. Brown was a key player on both ends from start to finish, ending the contest with 10 points and eight rebounds. Whitko would go into the fourth quarter with a five-point lead to protect.

Protect it the Wildcats did. Whitko would extend its lead even further, going up by double-digits in the beginning of the period. The Starfires would try to crawl back into the game, but the team could not overcome the lack of an offensive threat outside of Schoch, who finished the game with 21 of the team’s 36 points.  Wildcat sophomore Collin Ziebarth was tasked with finishing off the Starfires from the free throw line, and he did so, going 6-6 in the final period. Ziebarth would lead all Whitko scorers with 16 points.

The Wildcats are now 10-13 this year, and will face off with 2A No. 4 Fort Wayne Blackhawk Friday in the semifinals.