Controversial winning shot lifts City over Whitko

   COLUMBIA CITY — It wasn’t the 15 lead changes, the quick 10-2 start by Columbia City or even the game-high 22 points by Whitko’s Logan Irwin that was on everyone’s mind after exiting Donald S. Weeks Gymnasium Wednesday night.
   Everyone asked the question at least once. Was it a two or three?
   Depending on who you asked, each had his or her own explanation for Columbia City sophomore Drew Benedict’s shot with 1.7 seconds left. Whether by inches or feet, the officially ruled three-pointer by Benedict helped the Eagles beat rival Whitko 59-58 in the boys’ basketball regular season opener.
   The game-winning shooter ultimately knows whether or not. Columbia City’s leading scorer with a game-high 22 points on the night, Drew Benedict can’t answer for sure.
   “I don’t know,” the Eagle guard said. “It was close ... I just took one dribble and knocked down a three.”
   Some of the best game-winning shots aren’t planned and Benedict’s three-pointer joined that list according to head coach Chris Benedict.
   “We wanted Derek (Hinen) coming off the ball screen and driving,” Benedict said. “We knew they weren’t going to leave Drew alone in the corner so we thought we’d have a good gap to work through. He did a good job finding Drew when it wasn’t there.
   “The thing I liked about that was Drew didn’t chuck it from 30 (feet). He shot faked, took a dribble and got in there and made a shot.”
   Columbia City had three sophomores in the starting line with Derek Hinen and Jared Murphy joining Benedict.
   Hinen added seven assists to his game-winning assist to Benedict. Both in their second season on varsity, coach Chris Benedict has seen his young players step up into bigger roles.
   “You never know how they are going to react,” coach Benedict stated. “They’ve been around so long that they’ve played a lot of games and been in those situations already.
   “I thought they both did a good job of staying calm and composed. In the fourth quarter they stuck with it and chipped away at it.”
   Drew Benedict didn’t only finish the game but began it for Columbia City. For as good as the game ended for the Eagles, it began just as well.
   Opening on a 10-2 run, Benedict scored the first six points for the Eagles breaking in the scoreboard with a four-point play after being fouled on a three-pointer.
   A Columbia City team shooting 50 percent in the first half made its first four shots of the first quarter gaining the largest lead either team saw all night.
   Despite hanging on to the lead after one quarter 13-11, Columbia City didn’t have it for long. Senior Zac VanDeWater got the Wildcats back into the game with 15 of his 18 points for the game coming in the first half.
   VanDeWater scored Whitko’s first seven points of the second quarter hitting one of his two three-pointers for the Wildcats first lead 18-16 with 4:47 remaining.
   Seven lead changes saw the two rivals see-saw the lead back and forth before another run at the end of the half allowed Whitko to hold a two-point lead at the break.
   It was Whitko’s leading scorer for the past two seasons in junior Logan Irwin heading up a 9-2 run. Irwin split his game-high 22 points evenly across two halves ending the first half with 11 points on a three-point play in the lane that put Whitko up 29-27.
   Drew Benedict opened the second half as he did the first with nine points in a 12-3 run through the third quarter for Columbia City.
   A slim 43-42 lead heading into the fourth quarter set the stage for a final shot to decide the game.
   Using two early three-pointers by Mitch Yeager, Whitko gained the lead 48-44.
   The Wildcats lead grew to four points five different times through the final quarter. However, in the final minute Whitko struggled to put it away at the foul line going 4-for-8.
   Whitko shot just 35 percent from the field in the second half compared to 42 percent in the first half. A 27-18 advantage in the rebound stat line didn’t help against a Columbia City team that shot 47 percent for the game.
   After two free throws from City junior Matt Rethlake cut the lead to 58-56, the Eagles had one final chance with 14.6 left on the clock.
   From there Drew Benedict was the hero getting a pass from Hinen and hitting a shot Whitko head coach Rob Irwin would have liked to see the video tape on.
   “I’d of liked them to go back and watch the tape,” coach Irwin said. “But the officials had to make a decision. The last shot he made was a tough shot and we gave him enough space.”