RAIDERS BACK ON TOP IN ELKHART
Ink Free News / Sports on Sunday, March 8, 2020
ELKHART — Spectators at Saturday night’s Sectional 4 championship game may have wondered how emotionally and physically taxing back-to-back overtime games had been for Warsaw leading up to the finale at North Side Gym.
After all, the Tigers seemed to fade as the game wore on, and what started as a back-and-forth game eventually became a rout in the second half. But Warsaw coach Doug Ogle didn’t believe fatigue played a major role in his team’s 60-38 loss to repeat champion Northridge. His assessment? The Raiders are just that good.
“Three games in four days with a lot of drama in there — the overtime situations are kind of sapping of the energy. There might have been some of that but I would say Northridge is just an extra good basketball team right now, and that’s more than anything why tonight’s game went like it did. This is what they’ve been doing to teams for the last 15 games,” he said.
“Our effort was good. We were trying. We’re just not as good as them. You’d have to be a numbskull not to see that.”
The Tigers trailed by a single point after the opening period and were out front, 14-13, as late as the five-minute mark of the second stanza. But the Raiders began to find their groove with a 13-3 run to close out the half, taking a 26-17 lead into the locker room with Blake Jacobs’ tip-in just ahead of the buzzer. The defending champs really started pouring it on in the second half, knocking down 10-of-15 (66.7 percent) shots from the floor, including 4-of-8 three-pointers. Even 6’7” center Alex Stauffer stepped outside for a triple from the top of the key with 2:18 to go in the third, and the suspense was pretty much gone from there at 43-26.
“I don’t know what it is, the last two games we’ve come out and rushed our offense a little bit — taken poor shots, been impatient. Don’t get me wrong, our guys can hit those shots, but some of them were contested,” explained Ridge coach Scott Radeker. “We told our guys in the second half ‘They’re really good the first three or four passes defensively. If we can get them past three or four passes, we can get whatever we want.’ And we did. We started getting the ball inside, played a little inside-out, got a little drive-and-kick thing going, and everything started clicking in the third when we showed a little more patience.”
Senior forward Camden Knepp finished with 16 points and four assists to lead the Raiders, while junior guard Carter Stoltzfus scored 15 with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. Stauffer scored at a 4-of-7 clip on his way to 12 points with five rebounds in a balanced performance by Northridge.
“To get to the sectional championship is an accomplishment, and we would have liked to have played better but I think it was more so to do with Northridge’s — I would say — brilliance as a basketball team” said Ogle. “They’re unlike any team I’ve ever had to game plan for in terms of how many guys that can shoot. Normally there’s like two or three guys that can shoot; not all five of them. So more than anything I’m proud of our players for sticking to it and getting to the championship game, but I just have an appreciation for how Northridge plays. Scott Radeker has really done a good job in two years there, and they have a lot of guys that can play basketball right now on their team.”
The Raiders also put the clamps on Warsaw defensively, changing from man to a packed-in 1-3-1 zone. With the inside taken away, the Tigers converted only 7-of-20 (35 percent) shots from the floor over the second half. It’s a defense Radeker installed only this week for Ridge’s sectional-opener opposite Elkhart Memorial Wednesday, and it’s one his Raiders have already gotten pretty comfortable with.
“I think changing up defenses on them was really huge to throw them off balance a little bit. They were posting us in our man-to-man defense a ton, and our kids did a good job adjusting and playing out of our zones,” Radeker explained.
“They love to drive the ball. Warsaw has a great mid-range game. They like to go inside, so we thought we could really funnel them to our big guy and still get to their shooters in the 1-3-1 tight defense that we ran. We just stuck that in this week before Memorial, so I’m really proud of our kids for how they paid attention and executed that defense.”
Jaylen Coon was Warsaw’s high scorer a second straight night but finished with just nine points to go with five rebounds. Blake Marsh, Luke Adamiec and Jackson Dawson chipped in six points apiece as the Tigers were held to season-low points production.
Northridge improves to 21-5 with its 16th straight win. The Raiders advance to play Culver Academy (19-4) in Michigan City Regional play next Saturday at 11 a.m. Valparaiso (17-8) will play Merrillville (12-12) in the late semifinal with the championship on tap for 8 p.m.
But in the meantime, the Raiders celebrate their second straight sectional championship, Radeker’s second in just two years at the helm of the program.
“It never gets old. It seems like just yesterday we were here, you know? But I can’t even describe the feeling because I know what these kids have put in, and I know what great kids they are,” Radeker said.
“We’ve got 16 guys that just play and play for each other, and I’m so proud of them. They deserve this.”
Warsaw closes out the year at 13-10, meanwhile. Ogle announced his retirement earlier in the week and had a message for his players following his last game after 18 years at the head of Tigers basketball.
“I told the players that I didn’t retire from coaching because of them or anything having to do with them. I retired because of my own feelings about coaching right now,” he said. “I have been competing for 35 years, and I just need to get onto something else that’s less stressful and less busy. I just wanted the players to understand that. I appreciated their effort this week in practice and getting ready for sectional, and I love those guys.”