sports blog by andy shenk

Refs Win! Elkhart Central vs. Warsaw

In At The Game, Elkhart Basketball on January 9, 2013 at 8:54 AM

“We don’t pay you guys to talk to us.” Troy Noble spit the words at an IHSAA ref on Tuesday night, after the Warsaw Tigers nearly earned a phantom two points near the end of the first quarter. Ironically, Noble’s Eklhart Central Blue Blazers would benefit from a similar call at the end of the third quarter, only this time it wouldn’t be reversed, as senior John Stahl collected two points on a shot made long after the Tigers were whistled for a foul.

It was that kind of night for the officials, bizarre fouls early in the game culminating in a flurry of fourth quarter decisions neither team could predict or prevent. When the dust settled about 9:15 PM in Elkhart’s North Side Gym, the home Blazers, despite enjoying several chances to tie or win the game in the final minute, came up short, 47-45, just like the Blake Brouwer 3-pointer that clanged off the front of the iron as time expired.

In the first game of the night – Nikki and I arrived in time for the second half of the Blazers – Tigers JV game – Warsaw turned a one-point lead at halftime into 16 with two minutes left in the game. Though Central only managed nine points in the first 10 minutes of the half, a flurry of points restored the young Blazers’ honor. 44-28, just over two to play, became 46-41 at the final buzzer.

I’ve seen the same routine twice before this week – Russian club Lokomotiv-Kuban lost by eight points on Sunday to Zalgiris after trailing by 25 at halftime ,while the Carleton Knights fell to St. Olaf on Monday night, despite paring a 19-point deficit to 10 with three minutes left.

I don’t care for moral victories, unfortunately, and I’m sure Central’s varsity team doesn’t either. They came in on a six-game losing streak, with a 3.5 point average margin of loss in those games. Meanwhile, Warsaw, 7-4, rode to two straight two-point victories in the last four days.

Pre-game warm-ups are accompanied by a collection of recent pop hits from the pep band: “I Gotta Feeling,” “Party Rock Anthem,” “Single Ladies,” and “Firework.” Central’s captains, seniors Blake Brouwer and Terell Street, meet the Warsaw captains and refs near the scorer’s table about five minutes before the start.

Street struggled with turnovers on Friday night against Adams. I hope he can control the ball this time around.

When the teams come back out after their final meeting in the locker room, the cheerleaders have surrounded the floor to dance along to the Elkhart Central fight song. Coach Noble walks toward his bench, a Styrofoam cup of Gatorade in hand. He’s stymied by the cheerleader in front of his seat, however, who’s bouncing side-to-side. After a long look and shrug he squeezes through to the scorer’s table and sets down his drink. A minute later, we’re off.

The first quarter, highlighted by Noble’s exasperation with the officiating toward the end, goes to Central, 15-12. Central’s done well so far after Street got two quick fouls in two minutes and has to sit the rest of the half.

At the beginning of the second, a lengthy Blazers defensive stand fires up the crowd. It’s the first sustained cheer I’ve heard in three nights at North Side! “Defense, defense, defense…” but Warsaw hits a baseline jumper anyway to pull within one, 15-14. With about 3 minutes to go in the half, the score is 20-19 Warsaw. On the previous possession, Central scored, and Warsaw coach Doug Ogle stormed to half-court to protest a call to the refs. When he returns to his bench, Noble looks up to the crowd and complains that he’d certainly have earned a technical for that.

Brouwer’s gets hit on defense near the end of the half. He stays in the game, but looks dazed. With about 20 seconds left, Stahl shovels him a no-look pass down low, which he converts for two. Central takes that lead, 25-22, into the locker room. From behind the opposite basket, I notice three Elkhart Memorial players, including star Markese Morris, watching nonchalantly.

During the break, Nikki, Jonny, who joined us near the end of the half, my sister Bekah, and I discuss the first half and the environment. Maybe 300 people are here tonight, about a 60-40 split between Central and Warsaw fans. The game is close, though, and the small crowd doesn’t lessen our interest. Central’s band is fun, too. “Dynamite” and “The Cupid Shuffle” are the latest halftime treats. During a later old-time pep band staple, one fellow stands on a table to bang away on the cowbell.

The second half starts well for Central. Coach Noble is preaching ball movement on offense: “Pass the ball, pass the ball!” comes the constant refrain from the bench. With a second left in the third quarter, Stahl gets his mysterious two points and a chance for a three-point play. He misses the freebie and the rebound bounces to a Central player down low, but not before Central’s Derald Gray is whistled for a spurious over-the-back foul. When Warsaw’s Rashaan Jackson converts both ends of the 1-and-1, the refs can at least be applauded for negating their missed call a minute earlier – you see, the Central crowd is convinced that the man fouled on the rebound didn’t take the free throws.

33-33 with one quarter to go. A Terell Street steal and lay-up puts Central up by one, 39-38, with 5:20 to play. Two minutes later a Stahl bucket under the basket out of a timeout gives Central a 43-42 lead. Presented with his third 1-and-1 opportunity, trailing 44-43 with 1:13 to play, Stahl can’t convert.

Still trailing by one, 46-45, Central gets several last-chance opportunities from the refs. First, the Tiger guard is charged with a strange offensive foul bringing the ball up. Terell Street gets tangled up in a jump ball, however, giving possession back to Warsaw with 0:10 to play. Then, after Warsaw misses the second of two free throws, their rebounder gets called for traveling. Again, the Tiger fans are incensed, but Central has one last chance, inbounding from mid-court, to tie or win it with two seconds on the clock. Jonny, to my right, expects someone to get fouled, given the game’s trajectory so far, but Brouwer misses the 3-point shot instead. No whistle and Central’s 7th-straight loss by a combined 23 points.

After the game the Central athletic director rues the loss, “I’ll do anything for a win.” The Blazers probably hope he does. At 2-7 (0-2 in NIC play), their last win, on November 24th against New Century, must be hard to remember.

Central plays Friday at Mishawaka, but Nikki and I will be at North Side that night for Elkhart Memorial – Wawasee.

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