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SYRACUSE — When Columbia City and Whitko square off, no matter what the sport, it is always and intense affair. Friday night’s Class 3A sectional semifinal at Wawasee was no different.
The game came down to the long and the short of things, as Columbia City’s ability to hit the long range shot and Whitko’s difficulties at the free throw line propelled the Eagles to a 57-47 win.
The win puts Columbia City in a sectional final for the first time since 2006 with an opportunity for its first title since 2004. Host Wawasee will be the team the Eagles will have to beat to do so after the Warriors beat Lakeland 62-51.
Columbia City’s long range bombing helped to push them to a big lead in the early going. Sophomore guard Drew Benedict started things off with a turnaround bank shot three-pointer to put the Eagles up 3-0. A basket by Daniel Woll pushed the lead to 5-0.
The Wildcats tied the score 5-5 on a three by senior Zac VanDeWater. A three by Columbia City’s Derek Hinen and two inside baskets by Tyler Mosher gave Columbia City a 12-5 lead.
VanDeWater’s second three and a basket by Hinen at the buzzer accounted for a 16-8 Columbia City lead at the end of the first quarter.
“You can’t dig yourself in a hole like we did and win,” Whitko coach Rob Irwin said.
The Eagles knocked down three more shots from behind the arc for five in the first half and seven for the game, outscoring the Wildcats 21-9 from three point land for the game.
Five points, including a three, from Matt Rethlake and six more second quarter points from Woll offset seven second quarter points from Whitko junior Logan Irwin.
Benedict added another three-pointer as Columbia City took a 32-17 lead into halftime.
“The first half we did a really good job on the defensive end,” Columbia City coach Chris Benedict said. “I think our guys did a great job keeping them out of the paint. If you let Logan (Irwin) and VanDeWater into the paint, we’re going to lose that battle.”
The Wildcats came out in a trapping pressing defense for the second half, but despite the extra pressure the Eagles behind seven points from Benedict, were able to extend the lead to 43-27 at the end of the third period.
The fourth quarter saw an almost constant parade to the free throw line for the Wildcats as their defensive pressure began to pay off and they were able to drive the ball inside against the Eagles.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats, who three nights before hit 22-of-25 free throws, could only convert 9-of-20 from the charity stripe in the fourth.
Despite the difficulties the Wildcats pulled to within five at 49-44 on an Irwin three-pointer. That was as close as they got as Benedict knocked down a three of his own and Hinen converted 4-of-6 free throws down the stretch as Columbia City pulled back out to a 57-47 win.
“In the second half I think our guys got to the point where they were trying not to lose rather than trying to win,” Columbia City coach Chris Benedict said. “We have to continue to attack.”
“We knew they weren’t going to go away. Coach Irwin’s teams are always going to battle.”
Benedict led the Eagles scorers with 21, with Hinen adding 12, and Woll also breaking into double figures with 10 points.
For the Wildcats, Irwin led the way with 24 with VanDeWater adding 14.