AKRON – For all 32 minutes, the Tippecanoe Valley Vikings and Manchester Squires took turns playing hot potato with the lead. Neither team led by more than eight, the game was tied seven different times and the lead changed hands a staggering 12. But a late push in the final minutes of the game proved to be the difference as the Vikings emerged with a 55-49 victory over their Three Rivers Conference opponent Squires to earn its fifth straight victory.

The action was constant from the moment the ball was tipped. Both teams had little problem scoring the ball, with much of it being done in the paint and at the free throw line. It wasn’t a banner night for the Valley offense shooting the ball, just 20% from deep, but the team’s slashers made it up for it. Junior Tayde Kiser converted two and-one opportunities in the early minutes, and the Vikings were out to a 10-4 lead.

Manchester would answer quickly with an 8-1 run of its own led by freshman Gavin Betten. Betten would be a problem for Valley defenders all night, consistently making tough shots at the rim and getting to the line at will. The Viking defense struggled early in the game to defend without fouling, allowing the Squires to get into the bonus less than two minutes into the second quarter.

Both teams’ stars in the first quarter, Kiser and Betten, started to receive some offensive help in the second quarter. Nolan Cumberland of Tippy Valley began to find driving lanes and started to convert on his way to scoring eleven points in the game. Brayden Shepherd knocked down a couple of triples as he finished with eight. For Manchester, Cade Jones was about as much support as Betten got. Jones would score eight points in the second quarter and 14 on the night. Squires’ players not named Betten or Jones combined for just 12 points.

Despite both teams running up and down the floor for the first 16 minutes, Valley head coach Chad Patrick was puzzled by the lack of energy in the gym.

“There were a lot of people tonight, but it seemed dead. The refs were calling it pretty tight and that took both teams out of the game. It was kind of a dead half so we challenged our guys to pick it up defensively in the second and they did.

“I thought it was our game to win the whole time but I started getting a little worried. We just didn’t seem enthused or into the game.”

After both teams combined for 61 points in the first half, Patrick got his wish for a defensive grind in the second. Manchester would use this to their advantage, getting the better half of Valley for a majority of the period. With the Vikings only managing to muster up four points in the first six minutes, the Squires would go up by eight, the largest lead of the game. Betten continued his fantastic play, fueling the Manchester run. Betten would finish his night with a game-high 23 points, and would notch a double-double with ten board as well as two blocks.

“When we were going through the line at the end of the game I joked with him, asked if he was a senior. He told me he wasn’t and I said I was well aware,” Patrick laughed. “He’s a handful. He doesn’t play like any freshman I’ve seen. His footwork is amazing for any high school player.”

Momentum turned the Vikings way at the end of the third, when senior Dawson Perkins sunk a buzzer-beater on a second-chance tip in to cut the lead down to three. In the fourth quarter, the lead would change hands six times, with both sides rarely going up by more than a point. Tippy Valley began to feed Perkins more consistently inside, and he would score more than half of his eleven points in the final period. With Manchester up three with four minutes left, Patrick called timeout.

“A lot of our practice is game situations. We play a ton of mini games within practice and are always thinking of different situations. We’re at the point now where I just told them ‘we do this every day; we’ve been in all of these situations. The first three and a half quarters don’t matter anymore, let’s win this game,’” Patrick said.

Win the game Valley did. The game would come down to the final minute with the result still hanging in the balance. But the Viking defense would come through to win the day. Perkins had a big block. Shepherd had a massive steal. Kiser would go on to ice the game by scoring the final six points and getting a steal with 12 seconds left to erase any doubts.

“Tayde hates to lose, and he took over for us at the end there,” Patrick said. “He willed us to win tonight. He’s such a competitor.”

Tippecanoe Valley moves to 9-4 on the season, 5-1 in the Three Rivers Conference. The Vikings will travel to take on Mishawaka Marian Saturday night. Manchester falls to 6-9 this winter, 2-3 in the TRC. The Squires’ next contest is Thursday at Northfield.