Whitko Dominates Manchester To Advance To Sectional Semis

February 28, 2024 at 9:10 p.m.
Gavin Martin (L) of Manchester and Kyler Krull of Whitko scramble for the loose ball during the second quarter. Photo by Gary Nieter
Gavin Martin (L) of Manchester and Kyler Krull of Whitko scramble for the loose ball during the second quarter. Photo by Gary Nieter

By CONNOR MCCANN Sports Editor

A week ago, the Whitko boys basketball team defeated Manchester in both team’s final Three Rivers Conference game of the season. The win took away the Squires’ opportunity to win the TRC outright. On Wednesday night, just eight days after their last meeting, the Wildcats spoiled Manchester’s season once more, this time eliminating the Squires from IHSAA 2A Sectional 37 with a 63-42 win.
The game started off as a competitive one, with both teams getting into an early groove on offense and trading baskets on each trip down the court. For Whitko, senior Sam Essegian established very early on that he was going to be a formidable force in this one, scoring the Wildcats’ first five points of the game. Kaleb Kline was the early offensive threat for Manchester, scoring six early points on a pair of made threes.
The game wouldn’t stay close forever though, as Whitko began to take control of the contest in the final minutes of the first. Esseigan got some scoring help from fellow senior Kyler Krull, while Manchester began to struggle to get anything going on the offensive end. To make matters worse, Squire star Gavin Betten would pick up two quick fouls, though he would not come out of the game.
Meanwhile, Essegian never slowed down after his hot start, going on to score 12 points in the opening eight minutes as the Wildcats continued their strong start. The team’s quality close of the first quarter allowed Whitko to go up five heading into the second.

    Whitko's intense defense keeps Gavin Betten of Manchester at bay during Wednesday night's sectional game at Bluffton. Photo by Gary Nieter
That second quarter is where the Wildcats really began to pull away. Esseigan started the period off with four quick points to get the lead up to nine, and the team wasn’t done there. Using a combination of suffocating defense and a highly efficient offense, Whitko continued to pour it on Manchester. The Squire offense that had been such an unstoppable force all season long was being held in check by the Wildcats. Kline would be the only Manchester player with multiple buckets in the first half. Betten would score just two points in the opening 16 minutes while picking up three fouls.
Riley Harman and Logan Hoffman each scored a couple of buckets in the latter half of the second quarter as Whitko continued to do no wrong. After outscoring Manchester 16-5 in the period, the Wildcats were up 15, and it felt like more, as the two teams took their halftime break.
Harman scored the first seven point for the Wildcats to begin the third quarter as the team’s lead grew to over 20. Moments later, Krull joined Harman and Essegian in double figures with a long three pointer that forced a Manchester timeout with the Squires now trailing by 24. Looking to get back into the game in a hurry, most of Manchester’s shots in this third period were coming from beyond the arc, but each miss was just digging the hole even deeper.
With the Squires still searching for their first field goal of the second half five minutes into the third quarter, the Wildcats were still operating like a well-oiled machine. Easton Grable became the fifth Whitko player to get onto the scoreboard with a corner three to extend the lead to 27. A few possessions later, Manchester would finally get aa shot to fall on a layup by Betten, but there was still plenty of work to be done. Ethan Hendrix sank a three for the Squires in the final minute of the third quarter, but heading into the fourth, Manchester still trailed by 24.
Two minutes into the final quarter of play, Whitko was still up by 22 and had not taken its foot off the gas just yet, leaving its starters in the game. Point guard Jaylen Gibson got onto the scoresheet with pair of free throws. Senior Tyler McLain did his best to keep the Squires hanging around with a pair of threes, and Manchester finally got the deficit to under 20 with four minutes to go.
Even with this late spurt, it looked as if there just wasn’t enough time for Manchester to continue its final push. With two and a half minutes to go, the Squires were still down 16 and the Wildcats had done a great job up to this point at taking care of the ball. With just over two to play, Betten would pick up an offensive foul for his fifth of the game, taking him out for the remainder of the contest. In the game’s final moments, Essegian and Krull would both put their stamp on the victory with a pair of baskets.
Essegian led all scorers with 20 points in the game to go with nine rebounds. Harman added 18 points while Krull put up a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. For Manchester, Betten and Kline each finished the game with 12 points, with Betten adding eight rebounds.
The Squires (18-5) will return next season while Whitko (19-4) plays on. The Wildcats will take on Fort Wayne Bishop Luers in the second semifinal game at Bluffton on Friday night.

A week ago, the Whitko boys basketball team defeated Manchester in both team’s final Three Rivers Conference game of the season. The win took away the Squires’ opportunity to win the TRC outright. On Wednesday night, just eight days after their last meeting, the Wildcats spoiled Manchester’s season once more, this time eliminating the Squires from IHSAA 2A Sectional 37 with a 63-42 win.
The game started off as a competitive one, with both teams getting into an early groove on offense and trading baskets on each trip down the court. For Whitko, senior Sam Essegian established very early on that he was going to be a formidable force in this one, scoring the Wildcats’ first five points of the game. Kaleb Kline was the early offensive threat for Manchester, scoring six early points on a pair of made threes.
The game wouldn’t stay close forever though, as Whitko began to take control of the contest in the final minutes of the first. Esseigan got some scoring help from fellow senior Kyler Krull, while Manchester began to struggle to get anything going on the offensive end. To make matters worse, Squire star Gavin Betten would pick up two quick fouls, though he would not come out of the game.
Meanwhile, Essegian never slowed down after his hot start, going on to score 12 points in the opening eight minutes as the Wildcats continued their strong start. The team’s quality close of the first quarter allowed Whitko to go up five heading into the second.

    Whitko's intense defense keeps Gavin Betten of Manchester at bay during Wednesday night's sectional game at Bluffton. Photo by Gary Nieter
That second quarter is where the Wildcats really began to pull away. Esseigan started the period off with four quick points to get the lead up to nine, and the team wasn’t done there. Using a combination of suffocating defense and a highly efficient offense, Whitko continued to pour it on Manchester. The Squire offense that had been such an unstoppable force all season long was being held in check by the Wildcats. Kline would be the only Manchester player with multiple buckets in the first half. Betten would score just two points in the opening 16 minutes while picking up three fouls.
Riley Harman and Logan Hoffman each scored a couple of buckets in the latter half of the second quarter as Whitko continued to do no wrong. After outscoring Manchester 16-5 in the period, the Wildcats were up 15, and it felt like more, as the two teams took their halftime break.
Harman scored the first seven point for the Wildcats to begin the third quarter as the team’s lead grew to over 20. Moments later, Krull joined Harman and Essegian in double figures with a long three pointer that forced a Manchester timeout with the Squires now trailing by 24. Looking to get back into the game in a hurry, most of Manchester’s shots in this third period were coming from beyond the arc, but each miss was just digging the hole even deeper.
With the Squires still searching for their first field goal of the second half five minutes into the third quarter, the Wildcats were still operating like a well-oiled machine. Easton Grable became the fifth Whitko player to get onto the scoreboard with a corner three to extend the lead to 27. A few possessions later, Manchester would finally get aa shot to fall on a layup by Betten, but there was still plenty of work to be done. Ethan Hendrix sank a three for the Squires in the final minute of the third quarter, but heading into the fourth, Manchester still trailed by 24.
Two minutes into the final quarter of play, Whitko was still up by 22 and had not taken its foot off the gas just yet, leaving its starters in the game. Point guard Jaylen Gibson got onto the scoresheet with pair of free throws. Senior Tyler McLain did his best to keep the Squires hanging around with a pair of threes, and Manchester finally got the deficit to under 20 with four minutes to go.
Even with this late spurt, it looked as if there just wasn’t enough time for Manchester to continue its final push. With two and a half minutes to go, the Squires were still down 16 and the Wildcats had done a great job up to this point at taking care of the ball. With just over two to play, Betten would pick up an offensive foul for his fifth of the game, taking him out for the remainder of the contest. In the game’s final moments, Essegian and Krull would both put their stamp on the victory with a pair of baskets.
Essegian led all scorers with 20 points in the game to go with nine rebounds. Harman added 18 points while Krull put up a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. For Manchester, Betten and Kline each finished the game with 12 points, with Betten adding eight rebounds.
The Squires (18-5) will return next season while Whitko (19-4) plays on. The Wildcats will take on Fort Wayne Bishop Luers in the second semifinal game at Bluffton on Friday night.

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