SOUTH WHITLEY — Whitko’s Wildcats had to turn up the pressure Wednesday night on non-conference foe Plymouth in order to put the varsity contest out of reach early en route to a decisive 59-41 win over the Pilgrims.
It was a lesson learned from the team’s previous contest against Three Rivers Conference Tippecanoe Valley.
On Friday, the Wildcats squandered a 25-3 lead against the Vikings and let the TRC rivals back in the game before finally putting the game away late in the contest. Coach Rob Irwin said he and his squad were determined not to let that happen against Plymouth Wednesday night.
“I think the kids learned something from the last time we played,” said Irwin.
“Instead of getting up and letting up, they got up and kept it up.”
Free throw woes in the first half by Whitko (1-6 from the stripe) allowed the Pilgrims to stay within striking distance until increased pressure from a full-court trap caused enough turnovers to allow the Wildcats to pull away.
“Getting the speed up in the game was key,” said Irwin. “That half court was wearing us out so that’s why we went to the trap.”
Down the stretch, Whitko’s stifling defense was complemented by an offensive onslaught that featured smart-bomb-accurate passes into the paint as well as a downtown display by 3-point-shooting Mitch Yeager, who drained four threes and tallied 12 points.
“Mitch is supposed to knock down shots,” said Irwin. “Mitch knows what his job is, to get a look and knock down shots. Tonight I think all the guys did their jobs well.”
The Whitko trap began to pay dividends in the second period when Logan Irwin and Zac VanDeWater pinched the Pilgrim point guard in the backcourt and forced an errant pass which led to a Plymouth turnover.
The visitors weren’t ready to cave in yet as junior guard Ryan McNeil drained a three to pull Plymouth to closest it would come to Whitko the rest of the night — 9-8.
Whitko’s pressure had an unlikely ally in the form of poor field goal shooting by Plymouth, so despite a pair of missed free throws by Derek Snep and Alex Stoddard, deadly shooting from behind the arc by Irwin, Stoddard and Yeager with three seconds left in the half gave Whitko a 24-13 halftime advantage.
Irwin led all scorers with 21 points while Yeager and VanDeWater tallied 12 each and Stoddard added eight.
The defensive pressure afforded Irwin, VanDeWater and Yeager each three steals while Irwin added eight assists to his totals.
The 6-1 Wildcats return to action Dec. 29 in the Miami County Tourney.