GOSHEN — Jon Everingham couldn’t hold back how special Tuesday night’s victory was.
During the offseason, Everingham was told a vote to relieve him from his duties as Wawasee boys basketball coach was “eminent.” A few weeks later, though, it was announced that Everingham would remain the head coach of the Warriors program. Within a few weeks, Everingham had gone from being out of a head coaching job to back in charge of Wawasee.
That’s why Tuesday’s season-opening 44-37 road victory over Fairfield meant a little more to the fourth-year head coach and the Wawasee program.
“This one tends to feel just a little bit sweeter than some of the other ones that I’ve experienced,” Everingham said. “We’re a family, and we’ve come a long way as a family. To stay together through the ups-and-downs and to work really, really hard — I know it’s game one, but it felt different at the beginning. I was nervous. Just different emotions coming into this one.
“I love my team. We have really good kids, and they play with emotion. I thought everyone saw that tonight: we play with emotion and we play extremely hard. But we have a lot of improving to do.”
Wawasee’s victory spoiled the Fairfield coaching debut of Randy DeShone. The longtime Jimtown coach was making his first appearance on the sidelines since coaching Elkhart Central in 2015-16.
“Excited,” DeShone said were the emotions pre-game. “Just can’t say how proud I am of the kids. We’re playing catch-up, and I think we’ve spent one, maybe two days on our zone offense. Football players have been there five, six practices, and we were coaching and teaching on the fly.”
The Warriors raced out to a 10-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game, forcing two Fairfield timeouts in the process.
“We knew they were a little inexperienced, so we did not want them to come out and feel comfortable,” Everingham said. “We actually were in our trapping defense to start the game. It was a little bit of a risk, but we just felt with their inexperience, we kind of threw them out of rhythm.”
Fairfield responded, though, playing a methodical style of offense. Wawasee also went cold from the field, as the score was 14-11 at halftime.
After the Falcons cut it to 14-13 early in the third quarter, Wawasee responded with a 6-0 run to extend the lead back to seven. Fairfield wouldn’t go away, though, cutting the deficit to six entering the fourth.
The first three minutes of the fourth is where the Warriors would put away the game. Senior Ethan Hardy made a tough basket, then sophomore Jack Stover had a three-point play the old-fashioned way, giving Wawasee an 11-point advantage. The Warriors then hit just enough free throws down the stretch to give themselves the seven-point victory.
Senior Austin Miller led Wawasee with 12 points. Hardy had 11, Stover eight, sophomore Keaton Dukes seven and junior Kameron Salazar four.
Miller had the game-sealing play late in the contest, as he dove to get the basketball before Fairfield senior Nolin Sharick could pick it up. He then passed it ahead to Salazar for the wide-open layup.
“I think that exemplifies who we are,” Everingham said. “We’re going to grind it out. I didn’t think we played particularly well, and neither did Fairfield. … Miller diving on the floor for that ball exemplifies who we have to be in order to be competitive.”
For Fairfield, Sharick led offensively with a game-high 18 points. Sophomore Owen Miller had seven, senior Cade Gall six, and senior Riley Behles and junior Holden Blosser three each.
“We got punched in the mouth a couple times and just kept on fighting back,” DeShone said. “We were down 10, could’ve quit, but no. We adjusted in the huddle, and they went out and tried to execute it.”
Wawasee (1-0) hosts Angola Saturday. Fairfield (0-1) plays on Saturday as well, as they’ll take the short trip up US-33 and play at Goshen.
The first game of the night saw Fairfield cruise to a 55-33 victory over Wawasee. The Falcons got off to a hot start, going on a 15-0 run to begin the game.
“Just making some shots,” Fairfield coach Brodie Garber said of his team’s quick start. “When you’re making some shots, it often times makes a coach look pretty good. … Defensively, we did some things to help ourselves out, too.”
Wawasee never fully recovered from the early onslaught from Fairfield. The Falcons led 15-3 at the end of the first and went up 29-5 early in the second quarter. That’s when the Warriors showed some signs of life, as juniors Abby Steiner and Danielle Jenkins knocked down back-to-back 3’s to make it 29-11.
Fairfield freshman Brea Garber countered with two straight 3’s of her own, though, to make it a 24-point advantage for the Falcons once again going into halftime. Garber and teammate, senior Riley Miller, finished with a game-high 13 points apiece.
“I got to give (Brea’s) teammates a lot of credit for really embracing her and actually giving her a lot of confidence,” Garber, who’s also Brea’s dad, said. “There’ll be times when they want her to shoot more and they’ll tell her. Our older kids have made her fit in really, really well.”
Wawasee (3-3) battled in the second half, ultimately outscoring Fairfield, 22-20, across the final 16 minutes of the game. Steiner led the way with 11 points. Junior Ella Beezley had six points, Jenkins and sophomore Kennedy White five each, senior Hannah Lancaster three, sophomore Jada Carter two and sophomore Emily Haines one.
“We’re still learning, we’re still growing as a team. But, at this point, we have to figure things out quicker,” Wawasee coach Matt Carpenter said. “For our girls, they’re capable of playing well, they’re capable of playing extremely hard, but we didn’t see it for the betterment of the first half. I think what you saw in the second half is the intensity and energy that they can play with.”
Along with Garber and Miller’s 13 points, Fairfield (4-2) also had 12 points from senior Kara Kitson, 10 from senior Chloe Dell, four from freshman Bailey Willard and three from junior Mackayla Stutsman.
Wawasee plays again next Tuesday against West Noble. Fairfield hosts the NLC-NECC shootout Saturday. First game is at 10 a.m.