By Dave Pearce
When spending time around North Posey Head Basketball Coach Heath Howington, it doesn’t take long to realize two things.
The first, he is humble and wants his team to follow suit, and his sole goal for his team is to improve every day of the basketball season until the last shot is taken at the end of the year.
And if you ask Howington, he is at the perfect school.
“I think so much of those kids in there,” Howington said following Saturday evening’s hard-fought 65-54 victory over Forest Park. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit.”
But Saturday evening’s win over Forest Park, although exciting, was not nearly as exciting as Friday night’s come-from-behind victory over a well-coached and tenacious team at Tecumseh.
Friday night’s game started slow but ended with a Viking flurry.
The Vikings held a narrow 12-11 lead at the end of the first period and the after the Braves took a 16-15 lead about halfway through the second quarter, the Vikings came alive. Cody Ungetheim got loose for a bucket and the Braves took a time out.
But a big 3-pointer by Michael Bender with 2:45 to go in the quarter and a bucket by Reed Gerteisen gave the Vikes a little breathing room.
Leading 24-18, Wes Harness came up with a steal and a power drive to the basket. His bucket and ensuing free throw gave the team a 27-18 lead. After Tecumseh scored. Harness scored at the buzzer and it appeared the Vikings were on cruise control heading into the half-time locker room with a 29-20 lead.
But appearances can be deceiving and Coach Kevin Oxley’s squad decided they were going to make the Vikings earn this win.
Despite good defense, the Vikings were able to put only eight points on the board in the third period as Werry hit a 3-pointer and Harness picked up the other five, including his third foul as the quarter ended.
But the Braves came out with a vengeance in the final period. They scored the first seven points to tie the score at 37-all before Werry could find the range and stop the bleeding. But the Braves would no go away.
By the time the first half of the final period was over, the Braves were ahead 44-39 and the Vikings were reeling.
But Werry nailed a three before Harness picked up his fourth foul. Harness then found Ungetheim for two to pull the Vikes back to within 45-44.
But at that point, things appeared dismal for the Vikings. Harness fouled out at the two-minute mark on a blocking call and Werry followed suit, picking up his fifth with 1:29 remaining on the clock and the Vikings trailed 49-45.
But senior Kyle Whitmore and a cast of underclassmen found a way to get it done.
Whitmore pulled up from long range at the 1:14 mark and pulled the Vikings to within 49-48 with a three.
James Marshall got a critical steal but was fouled and could not convert with 43 seconds showing.
The Vikings were forced to fould and the Braves hit one of two free throws with 15 seconds remaining to give them a 50-48 lead. The Vikings needed a miracle.
The Vikings took a time out and got the ball into the hands of Whitmore. With 4.3 seconds showing on the clock, the senior stepped back and nailed a game-winning 3-point shot.
The Braves called a time out and managed to get off a good shot but it rolled off the iron as time expired.
“It was just a player making a good play,” Howington said of Whitmore’s heroics. “It was nothing that was drawn up. We did some things with our practice format and at the end of the practices, we spend 10 to 15 minutes on individual skill work. We have evaluated each player and we have a list that outlines everything they need to work on that will enable us to become a better team.”
Harness finished with 11 points to lead the team while Michael Bender continues to become more of a factor, especially from outside. He finished with 11. Whitmore had three 3-pointers for his nine and Werry had eight. Ungetheim finished with five while Gertiesen and Adkins had two apiece.
Saturday night’s win was the second of the season over the Rangers but this one was much tougher than when the teams met the first time in the Graber Post Classic in December.
“We knew they would come out ready for us and they were,” Howington said. “Coach Hawkins does a great job up there and his kids play extremely hard. They were very physical defensively. We adjusted to that as the game went on.”
So why was this victory, which was played at home, so much tougher than the first one?
“It was conference versus consolation,” Howington explained.
When the two teams played earlier, it was in the consolation round of the Graber Tourney and that game did not count toward the conference standing. However, it was evident that Saturday night’s game was a counter.
Howington said the bench is beginning to play a bigger and bigger role for his team as the guys are establishing their roles on the team.
“That is so critical and you have to challenge yourself and challenge your teammates to do what they can do,” he said. “Our motto all year has been to be better today than you were yesterday.”
One person who seems to be taking the motto to heart is Bender, who finished with 18 points against the Rangers. He is always a threat from deep but appears do be adding some diversity to his game as he showed some quickness inside and hit a couple of 10-foot jumpers.
“We are going to continue to challenge him,” Howington said. “We need him to play like that consistently. He is always a threat and we know that teams will key on him and we’ll have to make some adjustments for that.”
The Vikings were very methodical in putting the Rangers away. They outscored the Rangers in every quarter but it was the second quarter that gave the team the lead they needed.
After leading 12-10 at the first break, Harness scored and Bender nailed a three. Whitmore scored on a drive and Bender hit another three. He followed that three with a drive to the bucket and Harness then scored. Whitmore scored before Harness scored on a rout-out to end the half with the Vikings leading 30-21.
There were some odd lie-ups in the game at times on Saturday night for the Vikings. But they were successful and Howington explained the lack of a “big” man at times.
“We had three post players on the bench but with the offense they were running and trying to get back in the game, we felt we needed a quick line-up out there,” Howington said. “
The Vikings maintained a 10-12 point lead throughout the remained of the contest, although the Rangers pulled to within seven at the six minute mark.
But Werry went on a seven-point mini-tear in the next three minutes and with 4:43 remaining, the lead had become 14.
Bender finished with 18 while Whitmore had nnother good game, finishing with 15. Werry had 12 and Harness nine. Marshall finished with seven while Ungetheim, Gertiesen and Tyler Adkins finished with two apiece.
The Win raised the team’s record to 5-7 but more importantly, to 3-1 in the Pocket Athletic Conference.
The Vikings will find out this weekend if they are ready to contend for the title when they host South Knox on Friday before traveling to South Spencer for a key PAC match-up on Saturday night.
By Dave Pearce
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