SOUTH WHITLEY — As the final minutes ticked down Saturday afternoon the chant began at Whitko High School.
“This is Rob’s House.”
As the class 3A No. 4 Whitko Wildcats locked up the outright championship in the Three Rivers Conference against Manchester 61-34, head coach Rob Irwin remained at home recovering from chemotherapy treatments.
However, it didn’t take long for leader of the Wildcats to find out about his team’s newest title.
“Oh, he’s found out,” son and Whitko point guard Logan Irwin said right after the game.
“Basketball-wise, you just have to move on,” Irwin said. “You can’t help want happened to him. You just have to move forward and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Entering the day dubbed Rob Irwin Day, Whitko (14-2) already had a share of the TRC crown with Rochester one game back.
A win over the Squires meant a perfect 7-0 record in the conference for the Wildcats.
Manchester (3-13) had to take on a top-heavy team where seven seniors (Mitch Yeager, Zac VanDeWater, Max Elder, Scott Skiles, Kory Wood, Travis Weigold, Tyler Wine) were honored on the day.
“It was a good day for coach Irwin,” Whitko interim head coach Mike Kline said. “The kids were wound up for senior day.”
From the opening bucket, the seniors made their presence known, first with the annual toilet paper heave signifying the first points by Whitko.
It took only 25 seconds with VanDeWater knocking down a jump shot.
Two minutes later, Wildcat fans were thrown out of their seats again when VanDeWater took a steal for a breakaway two-handed dunk.
VanDeWater and Logan Irwin accounted for the Wildcats first seven points of the first quarter. Irwin was the game’s leading scorer with 26 points on an off-shooting night.
Tight defense forced 13 first quarter turnovers by Manchester. Meanwhile, Whitko built up its lead by the end of the first closing out the quarter on an 8-2 run.
Whitko shot 6-for-10 to open the game while the Squires struggled all game going 11-for-42 (26 percent).”
Whitko continued its run into the second quarter with the help of an 8-3 opening.
The Wildcats struggled hitting just five field goals in a game that didn’t have Whitko shooting it’s normal percent from the field.
“That basket was awful small in that first half,” Kline noted. “But fortunately the kids got after it and picked up the defense. We got back to playing in the second half like we like to play.
“We’re all trying to get on the same page. It’s not the same with coach Irwin not here and we’re working through it.”
After Manchester closed the gap at the end of the second quarter, Whitko held a 28-19 halftime lead.
The Squires leading scorer Austin Flack hit a three-pointer as time expired to take the game into the break. But it was Whitko that had the momentum in the second half.
In the most lopsided quarter of the game, Whitko outscored Manchester 17-6 in the third quarter. A three-pointer by senior Mitch Yeager opened a 15-0 run for Whitko.
After scoring two of the first three field goals of the quarter, Manchester was held to just one more falling behind 45-25 heading into the fourth.
“It’s been an overall team effort all year,” Kline said. “We are at our best when we can get Max, Derek and Mitch some easy baskets. We need Zac and Logan but it sure does make us go when we get those other guys involved.”
In the great teams of Whitko, the Wildcats have gotten to 14 wins quicker than any other team in the last 18 seasons.