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Written By StaceyPageOnline / Sports on Sunday, March 3, 2019

Northridge players hold their championship trophy up as fans congregate around them on the floor at North Side Gym Saturday. (Photos by James Costello)

ELKHART — Northridge senior Jackson Erekson has been through some tough sectional finals.

There was the down-to-the-wire loss to Warsaw in the 2017 title game, then last year he and the rest of the Raiders watched a 21-point lead evaporate to Elkhart Memorial on the way to another sectional heartbreak.

In Saturday’s Sectional 4 finale, Erekson did everything he could to keep it from happening again, pouring in a game-high 25 points — including 10 in the final period — to lead Ridge to a 59-46 championship win over Warsaw at North Side Gym.

“Jackson Erekson, he’s had a couple tough sectionals. They lost to Warsaw at the buzzer when he was a sophomore, and last year they blew that lead,” said first-year Northridge coach Scott Radeker. “I told him ‘This is your time right here. Go get it.’ And I thought he stepped up and played a lot better tonight at both ends of the floor for us. But it was a total team effort from the guys on the bench, to the JV guys sitting behind the bench, to our fans, our students, our coaches, managers. It was just an amazing night for Northridge basketball, Northridge High School and the community of Middlebury.”

Jackson Erekson scored a game-high 25 points to lead Northridge.

While Erekson provided much of the offense for his team, the Raiders’ defense made the difference.

The Tigers were held to 14-of-52 (26.9 percent) shooting from floor, compared to a 16-of-33 (48.5 percent) clip by Ridge. Warsaw didn’t fare much better at the line, either, converting only 11-of-22 free throws.

“Coming into the game, we knew it was going to be defense that was going to drive us against a disciplined Warsaw team. They do a great job of executing in the half court,” said Radeker. “Our kids, I thought we had a great game plan going in. The whole coaching staff, we were up late working on it; everybody had a part in it. And the kids came in focused this morning. We did a great job against the dribble penetration. We did a good job against the post entries of making them take tough shots inside, and then we were able to come down and convert at the other end.”

“Sometimes you can’t really explain shooting that bad — 14 out of 52. There weren’t that many bad shots that we shouldn’t have taken,” said Warsaw coach Doug Ogle. “There’s going to be games. And we shot poorly from the free throw line. There were points we left there. Just can’t win a game against a good team like Northridge, who, right now, they’re playing really well in all facets.

“They’re a good team, and we can’t shoot like that and have a chance to win.”

Northridge opened the game with seven straight points before the Tigers settled in with a 9-0 run to grab a tentative, 9-7 advantage at the quarter break. The Raiders retook the lead with a corner triple from Camden Knepp on an Erekson inside-out assist. They never trailed again, building to leads as big as 16 points in the third period.

Northridge’s Carter Stoltzfus takes a spill between Trevor Rumple and Jaylen Reese.

“We got off to a bad start, seven-nothing, then we scored nine straight points and then you feel like maybe we’re going to be OK, and then it went again,” said Ogle. “I don’t know. I don’t want to make excuses like five and a half hour bus travel on the three nights and all that. I don’t know. We just didn’t shoot well.”

The Tigers used full court pressure to grab some extra possessions late, and they whittled their deficit down to just nine points with Trevor Rumple’s 3 from the top of the key at the 3:21 stop of the fourth. A Nolan Groninger pull-up triple with just 41.7 seconds remaining cut Ridge’s lead to single digits once more, but Erekson converted a pair of foul shots on the other end and Warsaw never got any closer.

“It did get a little frenetic. It got back to nine, and the guys were tensing up a little bit,” recalled Radeker. “We told them ‘Hey, you’ve just got to keep playing. Just keep playing, keep playing, and the results will be good at the end.’ And it was. We ended up making enough plays to get the job done.”

Blake Marsh led the Tigers a second straight nigh with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Groninger was held to just six points on 2-of-8 shooting but passed out six assists in his final game for the Tigers, and Tyler Metzinger finished with seven points and five rebounds.

Warsaw (15-8) must now bid goodbye to four seniors in Groninger, Rumple, Metzinger and Jaylen Reese.

“Our seniors are quality guys, and they led us to a championship season. We were Northern Lakes Conference champions, so they have a lot to be proud of, and I appreciate those guys. All six of them — two managers and four players,” Ogle said.

Northridge (18-8) was paced by Erekson’s 25 and 12 from Alex Stauffer as the Raiders collected their 12th straight win. Ridge advances to play Munster in the late semifinal at the Michigan City Regional next Saturday, following a 10 a.m. opener between Penn and Chesterton. The winners advance to the championship game later that night, scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip-off.

Northridge’s bench celebrates in the final moments of the Raiders’ title win.

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