After falling behind by 17 points early in the second half of Saturday night’s Class 4A Columbus North Sectional final, Whiteland wasn’t ready to see its season end.
The Warriors battled back to within five points twice in the final two minutes, but the host Bull Dogs held on for a 67-59 victory.
“They made a really nice run at the end of the second quarter, so at halftime, we talked about a couple different things,” Whiteland coach Nate Cangany said. “It wasn’t enough, but we did make a really nice run. We used a little bit of pressure defense to speed them up, and then we made the most of our offensive possessions, which we didn’t do in the first half.”
The Warriors (10-15) still trailed 56-43 with 3:45 remaining when they began heating up. Austin Willoughby scored seven consecutive points to cut the lead to six, and after two North free throws, Ethan Edwards hit a 3-pointer to trim the margin too 58-53 with 1:39 left.
After two more Bull Dog free throws, Edwards converted a one-and-one to make it 60-55 with 1:23 remaining. But that was as close as Whiteland got, with North (17-8) making seven of eight field goals and nine of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter.
The Bull Dogs shot 58% (25 of 43) from the field for the game, including 67% (14 of 21) in the first half.
“We felt like most of the year defensively, we’ve been pretty solid, and tonight, especially in the first half and second quarter, they were getting to whatever spot on the floor they wanted to,” Cangany said. “We were struggling to rebound the basketball. We were giving them second-chance opportunities.”
Willoughby led the Warriors with 16 points. Edwards scored 13 points, Wiatt McLaughlin had 11 points and Brayden Roy added nine points and nine rebounds.
“We knew our kids played really hard,” Cangany said. “We knew our kids weren’t going to give up. These kids, led by our three seniors and then the underclassmen that are in the rotation, they played until the final buzzer.
“We’re going to obviously miss Austin Willoughby, a four-year starter,” he added. “Brayden Roy and D.J. Helm have been tremendous this year. Brayden Roy was kind of our rebounder and man in the middle, and then D.J. had been one of our best defenders. So we’re going to miss those guys, but we have five guys returning and about 35 points per game coming back next year. So we’re excited about our future, but we’re sad to lose the three that we lose.”