By GREG KEIM email@example.com
---- — HARTFORD CITY, Ind. — As much as the NorthWood Panthers tried to finish the game, they could not overcome their sluggish start.
NorthWood fell behind 8-0 early on and trailed by 16 points at halftime before falling to the Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger Saints, 50-44, in a semifinal game of the IHSAA Class 3A boys basketball regional Saturday morning at Blackford High School.
“The first half was not a quality one for us,” NorthWood coach Aaron Wolfe said. “Any time you have a poor half like that it is a combination of factors that creates a perfect storm. That is something that had not happened to this group throughout the season.
“This team had high expectations. I was so proud of them for the goals they set for themselves, but it always hurts when you fall short.”
NorthWood finishes 21-3. The 21 wins are the most in program history and the three losses are the fewest.
“We came out and did not play well in the first half. That killed us,” senior Jonathan Wilkinson said. “Dwenger threw a lot of people in the lane and tried to deny us driving to the basket. That is a big part of our offense.”
Senior Zach Zurcher agreed.
“Dwenger got us out of our offense,” Zurcher said. “They made it a lot harder for us to get the ball where we wanted it and that in turn made it a lot harder for us to score.”
Dwenger controlled the boards early on with a 9-1 edge in rebounds in the opening period.
“We could not have played much better in the first half,” Dwenger coach Matt Kostoff said. “We hit out shots early on and we were lucky NorthWood missed. NorthWood is a very good offensive team.”
Dwenger led 32-16 at halftime.
Despite NorthWood’s early deficit in rebounds the teams were tied 26-26 in rebounds. Zurcher made a huge impact for the Panthers as he grabbed 15 boards, many of the coming after intermission.
“Zach responded late in the game for us,” Wolfe said. “He rebounded the ball exceptionally well in the second half.”
NorthWood fought their way back into the game in the third by holding Dwenger to four points, all of which came from the free-throw line.
The Panthers opened the third period with a 7-0 run that got them back within nine points (32-23) with 6:33 left in the quarter. Sophomore Braxton Linville drained a 3-pointer at 7:41, senior Will Stueve added an inside basket at 6:52 and Wilkinson converted a layup at 6:33.
Linville added another trey at 2:48 and Zurcher a layin at 1:43 and the Panthers trailed 36-32 entering the fourth.
“We wanted to get it down to seven points going into the fourth quarter,” Wilkinson said. “We kind of ran out late in the game. You want to keep giving 100 percent, but by that time what you think is 100 is maybe 80 percent.”
NorthWood trailed 40-37 with 4:10 left to play following Linville’s third ‘3’ of second half only to have the Saints answer with a 9-2 run for a 49-39 lead with 1:14 left.
“Braxton hit a 3-pointer from the corner for us and then Dwenger hit a tough shot,” Wolfe said. “Then we went into a stretch on offense where we did not execute. You go into a kind of desperation mode to get back into the game and then you have to shift gears again and that is hard to do.”
Zurcher scored 16 points, Wilkinson 13, Linville nine and Stueve six for NorthWood.
“Zurcher and Wilkinson are two of the better players we have seen this year,” Kostoff said. “But the guy I was really worried about was Stueve. We tried to double down on him and layoff the guards. Linville made us pay for that a couple of times. He is a very good player.”
Besides Stueve, Wilkinson and Zurcher it was the final prep game for seniors Tanner Farmwald and Kyle McCoy.
“The season was a lot of fun,” Wilkinson said. “Even if we didn’t make our goal of getting to state I would rather lose with these guys than win with another team.”
“It’s very disappointing,” Zurcher said. “I love every one of these guys. Some of us have been together for 10 years. They are my brothers.”
FW Dwenger 60, NorthWood 44
FW DWENGER — Marcus Stepp 4-11 1-2 9, Kyle Hartman 0-8 8-10 8, Antonio Blackmon 0-0 0-0 0, Ryan Christman 0-1 0-0 0, Grady Eifert 2-6 4-8 9, Michael Ficable 3-4 0-0 6, Jeff Mugg 7-10 1-2 15, Keenan Centilvre 0-0 0-0 0, Noah Coonan 0-0 0-0 0, David Peters 1-1 1-1 3. Team: 17-41 15-23 50
NORTHWOOD — Braxton Linville 3-6 0-0 9, Zach Zurcher 5-8 4-6 16, Tanner Farmwald 0-1 0-0 0, Kyle McCoy 0-4 0-0 0, Dakyrion Fox 0-0 0-0 0, Jonathan Wilkinson 5-12 2-3 13, Travis Bear 0-0 0-0 0, Will Stueve 3-7 0-0 6. Team: 16-38 6-9 44
FW Dwenger 17 15 4 14 — 50
NorthWood 9 7 16 12 — 44
3-point goals: FW Dwenger 1-4 (Eifert 1-2, Christman 0-1, Stepp 0-1). NorthWood 6-16 (Linville 3-6, Zurcher 2-3, Wilkinson 1-4, McCoy 0-3).
Fouls: FW Dwenger 12, NorthWood 18.
Rebounds: FW Dwenger 26 (Ficable 6, Eifert 5, Stepp 4). NorthWood 26 (Zurcher 15, Wilkinson 3)
Assists: FW Dwenger 7 (Eifert 2, Stepp 2). NorthWood 9 (Linville 3, Farmwald 2, Wilkinson 2).
Steals: FW Dwenger 6 (Ficable 4), NorthWood 4 (Stueve 2).