sports blog by andy shenk

Saturday. Elkhart. Class 4A Sectional Final

In At The Game, Elkhart Basketball on March 3, 2013 at 5:01 PM

Warsaw and Northridge made the cut on Friday night in the Elkhart 4A sectional semifinals, advancing to Saturday’s 7:30 PM final in North Side Gym. The crowds may have been bigger for the semifinals, with 4500 watching on as Warsaw stunned heavy favorites Concord, 41-39, in triple overtime, but it made little difference to the fans in attendance for the final. They came to watch their schools battle for the sectional crown in the first-ever Elkhart final between two teams with 10 or more losses on the year.

Northridge also pulled off an upset to make it this far. In the second game Friday night, the Raiders rollicked past Goshen, 50-38, thanks to senior guard Joey Ganyard’s 16-point outburst and stingy 3rd-quarter defense. Leading 25-19 at halftime, Northridge kept the Redskins (15-7) scoreless in the third and led by as many twenty points in the final period.

The buzz, though, was squarely in the Warsaw camp. Despite the hour-long drive north on Indiana-19, Tiger fans outnumbered the Middlebury natives at least 2-1. A much smaller contingent made the trip up on Friday night for the showdown with #8 Concord and Ball State-bound senior Franko House, but after Warsaw’s Jordan Stookey hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to topple the Minutemen (24-2), half the town, it seemed, showed up Saturday.

Nikki and I arrived at 6:35 PM, in time to find a seat courtside across from the Northridge bench. Raider Green and Gold packed the bleachers behind the team, but orange-clad Tiger fans sprawled throughout the rest of the gym. We, too, were gradually surrounded by the Warsaw faithful, most of whom continued to talk about the night before prior to tip-off, as well as Tuesday night’s double-overtime escape against Elkhart Central.

Saturday night marked the fourth time I’d seen Warsaw play at North Side this season. Though undefeated in my presence, they sat at 12-10 overall. Northridge came in at 10-11, 7-2 in their last nine.

6-7 Raider star Nate Ritchie, towering half a foot above the next-tallest Northridge starter, controlled the opening tip and gave his team an early lead with a pull-up jumper at the free-throw line. The junior kept rolling, scoring 13 of the Raiders’ first 14 points, before heading to the bench late in the first quarter after picking up his second foul. Ganyard’s lay-up at the buzzer put the Raiders on top, 16-11, through one period of play.

Just like Friday night, the Northridge student section won the cheering battle, this time outworking the Tiger crowd. Warsaw just didn’t have the commitment needed in the back rows of the student section and continually invited cheers of “We can’t hear you” from the other end of the gym. Half a dozen Tiger kids sitting close to me and Nikki took it personally. One of the boys jumped up when Northridge began chanting “You can’t do that” after a Warsaw foul and yelled, “He just did!”

Ritchie, the one fouled on the play, drained both free throws for his 14th and 15th points of the game and a 24-18 Raider lead with 2:43 to go in the half.

30 seconds later, it was Warsaw senior Jared Bloom’s turn to take some abuse. Stepping to the line following a foul on his pretty floater in the lane, Bloom couldn’t have missed the hefty Northridge fan decked out in a football helmet and practice jersey pulling his shirt up to reveal some skin. The and-1 missed and Raiders gleefully declared, “You were looking!”

Bloom had the last laugh in the half, hitting a shot in the lane to pull Warsaw within two, 26-24. His 14 points put him just one behind Ritchie for the scoring lead.

The third quarter was all Warsaw. Bloom’s eight points, including a ‘3’ to end the period, and sophomore Rashaan Jackson’s five, put the Tigers up seven, 42-35.

But six consecutive free throws in the first two and a half minutes of the fourth quarter helped Northridge even the score, bringing the Raider fans to their feet in support.

The turning point came about the two-minute mark. Jordan Stookey, Friday night’s hero, hit a 3-pointer with 2:05 to play to give Warsaw a 55-49 lead. The Raiders’ Pete Smith traveled on the following possession, then popped the ball loose from the Warsaw guard trying to bring the ball up the court.  The two players collided, with Smith hitting the floor, but no foul was called as Warsaw regained possession. Northridge coach Ronnie Thomas went ballistic, storming after the ref on the sideline and earned a technical for his outburst. Bloom drained both free throws for a 57-49 lead.

On the possession following Thomas’s technical, the two teams got in a scuffle, as Jackson and the Raiders’ Austin Monyiot both received a double technical. The tension in the gym heated up, with a policeman even moving into the center aisle next to the Raider bench and the PA announcer reading several reminders to respect sportsmanship.

The excitement proved anti-climactic. Warsaw quieted the Northridge offense and crowd in the final minute and a half, cruising to a 64-57 victory. Bloom collected Warsaw’s final points on two free throws to end with 33 points, the undisputed sectional MVP, to go along with a gaudy 21.3 scoring average during three Warsaw wins.

As the Warsaw students flooded the court to congratulate the team, the kids to our right gathered at the baseline. They hesitated for a few moments, nerving themselves, then suddenly took off, rushing headlong into the gleeful Tiger crowd. Congratulations, Warsaw, 2013 Elkhart Sectional Champs.

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