By DAVID VANTRESS firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — NAPPANEE – If you’ve been freezing your tail off this especially cold, brutal Midwest winter, no worries: Hoosier Hysteria has arrived to warm your heart and raise your blood pressure.
Tuesday night at the Panther Pit, West Noble and Whitko tipped off Class 3A NorthWood Sectional play with a quarterfinal contest.
And in true Hoosier Hysteria tradition, 32 minutes of basketball wasn’t enough to settle this one.
Overtime was needed, and Whitko prevailed, 49-46 in the extra period.
With the win, the Wildcats (15-6) move on to Friday night’s semifinals against Lakeland (9-11), which received a first-round bye.
The Chargers (11-10) sprinted out to a quick 5-0 advantage, but the Wildcats were able to weather that early West Noble surge and outscored the Chargers 13-7 over the remainder of the opening frame to lead 13-12 at the first stop.
The two teams traded the lead for much of the second stanza before, trailing 18-17, the Wildcats closed the half on an 11-7 push to lead 28-24 at intermission.
Whitko was able to scratch out to a seven-point advantage at 33-26 midway through the third, but the Chargers were able to whittle that down to four at 36-32 with eight minutes to play.
West Noble scored the first four points of the final frame to tie it at 36, but the Wildcats got a 3-pointer to claw back out to a three-point lead at 39-36.
Whitko got out to a 43-39 lead, but a couple of key defensive stops helped the Chargers get to within one at 44-43. With 57.2 seconds left – and the ball – the Chargers called time out to talk about it . But a quick shot coming out of the break was no good, and the Wildcats got the rebound, forcing West Noble to foul with 48.7 ticks remaining.
Whitko converted on just one of the charity tosses, and West Noble’s Kelsie Peterson drained a pair of clutch free throws with 34.7 seconds left to tie it at 45.
The Wildcats were unable to get the game-winning shot, forcing the extra period, where they outscored the Chargers, 4-1.
Whitko coach Brandon Bradley said he asked his team about its sluggish start at halftime.
“I wanted to know if it was nerves, or being tired,” Bradley said. “They said it was nerves.”
With a young team that included a freshman and two sophomores in the starting lineup, some nerves were to be expected, Bradley said.
That’s where senior leadership – some of that coming from Kelly Reiff – can pay off.
Reiff said she and her teammates needed to keep calm and battle through the early jitters.”
“We know West Noble was going to battle us,” Reiff said.
The two teams played a squeaker earlier in the season, the Wildcats pulling out a 64-62 win Dec. 19 at Whiko.
Aly Reiff led the Wildcats with 17 points. Kelly Reiff had nine.
Peterson had 19 points to lead all scorers for West Noble. Taylor Fisher added 10.
The Chargers say goodbye to just one senior: Peterson.