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Apaches dominate inside, earn win to open season

POST: Wabash’s Alivia Short prepares to shoot the ball in the Apaches’ game against Elwood on Saturday.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

A week prior to Saturday, Wabash’s volleyball team was closing out its season at the semi-state. On Saturday, a majority of those same girls were opening the basketball season at home against Class 2A No. 17 Elwood.

At times, the Apaches looked like a dominant, imposing force as they finished the night with 26 points in the paint. For longer stretches, Wabash looked a side short on practices and out of rhythm, finishing with 33 turnovers on the night as well.

Fortunately for the Apaches, the highs were higher than the lows were lower. A blazing start saw the hosts score 19 of the first 23 points, building up a 15-point lead in the first quarter that carried them to a 44-39 win.

“What I just told them is ‘Here’s the good news’ and I wrote 1-0 on the board,” head coach Matt Stone said. “Then I go ‘Now let’s go through the bad news’ and that’s everything else. The other part of the good news is we did get a lot of good shots. Now, we missed them. We missed a ton. But we did get a lot of good shots. We have to get to the free throw line more…and we have to take care of the basketball. Plus, we did a poor job of knowing where (Booker) was. We just didn’t do a very good job of recognizing she was the one keeping them in the game and we just kept letting her get shots.

“Hopefully, those things get better, we get our legs underneath us. We’re not going to make excuses. This is what we decided to do is step right out of volleyball and start playing. But, we did make a lot of mental mistakes at the end of the game that we have to clean up.”

The first quarter proved to be the difference on the night for both sides. After an opening basket from Elwood’s Lexi Crosbie of an Apache turnover, Wabash exploded for 19 of the next 21 points to open up a 19-4 lead.

Wabash’s press was the difference in the quarter as the Apaches turned over the consistently, turning those extra possessions into points with five different players scoring in the first eight minutes.

The lead reached its peak on the night at 23-6 after baskets from Tabatha Wagner and Hope Unger to start the second quarter. Wabash would pull out of the press and, subsequently, allow the Panthers back into the contest with the deficit closing to 29-15 by halftime.

The third quarter would belong to the visitors with Elwood closing the deficit to eight points with a 10-4 run to open the frame.

Wabash would score on either side of the fourth-quarter break with Mariah Wyatt scoring inside and Wagner would knock down a free throw to push the lead back to double digits at 36-25.

Elwood responded with a 6-0 run that featured five points from Emily Booker, including an and-one layup after a Wabash turnover. A free throw from Katie Morris closed the gap to 36-31. Wabash momentarily righted the ship, pushing the lead back to seven at 39-32 after three-straight points from Wyatt, but Booker would bank in a three-pointer to pull within four at 39-35.

Elwood had a chance to close the game to within one possession with Courtney Todd stepping to the line with a pair of free throws with 2:00 left but the Panther guard would miss both. Wabash would call a timeout before seeing a baseline jumper from Nici Gunderman and a three-pointer from Unger with 1:07 left to put the game out of reach.

Even with the win in hand, the major talking point from Stone after the contest was the ball-handling and turnovers from his side on the night. After a long line of strong point guard play, the Apaches are still searching for the long-term answer at the position.

“We’re a different team.” Stone said. “We don’t have that dominating guard who just takes care of the ball. We’ve had that for years. Now, we’re not that team. We’re bigger, we got a lot of people who can help and we have to do a better job taking care of (the basketball).”

On the night, a host of Apaches handled the ball. Guards Gunderman, Unger, Kaylee Graf and Maya Benysh all saw time with the ball in their hands as did a host of Wabash’s plentiful forwards taking turns on the night.

“In reality, I truly believe almost everyone we have can handle the ball,” Stone said. “But we haven’t been in a game doing it. We’ve relied on a lot of people in the past that aren’t those guys. We need more practice doing it and we need to be able to go at game speed. So, I just think we’re going to be different. The speech I gave them earlier in the week was ‘This isn’t the team where we let one person break the press and bring the ball up. We all have to help.’ Now, there were too many times tonight we were running away and we can’t. We have to be running toward it.

“I think that’s all going to get better. It has to get better.”

The positives for Wabash came from the play of their post players, as anticipated coming into the season. While Unger led the team in scoring with 12, a host of forwards followed for Wabash. Wyatt chipped in 11, Alivia Short eight, Wagner seven and Kiley Stone two.

On top of the 26 points in the paint, Wabash pulled down 47 rebounds in total on the night with 19 of those being offensive boards. Wagner pulled down 13 boards while Wyatt finished with eight rebounds, five of those coming on the offensive side. Short grabbed eight as well on the night.

“That’s going to be us,” Stone said. “Hope’s going to hit some threes and maybe even Tabby and Nici, but in the end, we’re going to be getting it inside. And, my gosh, we could have had 56 points in the paint. I was happy the way we got in there and I was happy the way we hit the offensive boards, we just didn’t finish.”

Booker finished with 22 points for Elwood while Todd tallied nine.

Wabash (1-0) will be back in action this weekend with a pair of contests against Grant County sides with a home game against Mississinewa on Friday before a road trip to Marion on Saturday.