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Unger's career night sends Apaches past Tigers

PASS: Wabash's Hope Unger (left) looks for a teammate during the fourth quarter of Tuesday's game against Bluffton.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

Wabash High School's Hope Unger has found herself in an unfamiliar position for much of the Apaches season. A move made out of necessity took Unger from her role as a spot-up shooter to point guard. And while it’s all still very much a work in progress for the senior, Tuesday was a glimpse of how far she’s come.

Unger poured in a game- and career-high 19 points, 10 of those coming in the second half, as Wabash snapped its two-game skid with a 61-49 win at home over Bluffton High School.

“Bless her heart, man,” Head Coach Matt Stone said after the win. “It’s such a tough gig for her because this is not what she was expecting, for her to step up and to have to take over running the point. But the other night, she kind of quit looking to score and I said ‘Hope, I know this is hard, but you have to still score for us.’ Tonight, she did, which is nice to see. It’s a big deal that Hope has grabbed this thing and gotten better every game and has gotten comfortable.”

Wabash trotted out a lineup with Unger and Abby Vinopal in the backcourt to go along with Wabash’s plethora of bigs in the frontcourt. The lineup, though, represents both Wabash’s issues in roster construction also showcasing an improving squad.

“We’re not playing a normal lineup,” Stone said. “We’ve made Abby (Vinopal) a guard. Even Kiley (Stone) is not really a guard. Really, in our top seven, you have two guards in Hope and Nici (Gunderman). We’re doing the best we can. I think they’re getting better, I do. I think they’re all getting better at it.”

While the Apaches were searching for a win, they were also searching for a strong start to the game. In each of the last two contests, the Apaches have dug double-digit holes in the opening frame, trailing 10-0 to Alexandria and 14-2 to Tippecanoe Valley High School.

Unger, though, ensured the Apaches would get off on the right foot, pouring in seven points in a 13-0 Wabash run in the opening quarter as the hosts jumped out to a 13-3 lead. Back-to-back three-pointers from Emme Boots and Meryl Frank for the Tigers negated much of Wabash’s work in opening up the lead, slicing a 10-point lead down to four.

Still, the Apaches led 15-9 after one in what Stone considered a necessary run to open the game.

“Our kids came out and they played hard,” he said. “What we talked about, they did. We played hard. We tried to control the lane a little bit. I still think we just have to take care of the ball better. We had 13, 14 turnovers in the first quarter. But, we were scoring. We were playing hard. We were aggressive. We didn’t come out and look like we were stuck in cement like we had in the last two games in the first quarter. That certainly was a good thing to see.”

Wabash spent much of the second period restoring the double-digit margin. After seeing Bluffton trim the lead down to four, Mariah Wyatt and Tabatha Wagner scored six-straight points to extend the lead to 23-13.

Baskets from Alivia Short and Vinopal allowed Wabash to take a 27-16 lead into the locker room. But, after extending the lead by a point to 30-18 at the start of the third, Wabash saw the lead quickly evaporate.

After a pair of Tiger free throws, Frank and Boots each converted three-point plays as the lead dwindled down rapidly to 30-28 after another Boots layup.

Wabash never allowed the lead to get lower than two points, though. Unger scored eight points after seeing the lead trimmed to two while Short’s three-point play off a missed Gunderman free throw helped Wabash restore the lead at 44-39 as part of a wild third quarter.

“I thought we did a good job of getting it inside to Mariah and (Alivia Short) and Hope knocked down some shots,” Stone said of his team’s response in the third quarter. “Like I said, we scored 61 points with 30 turnovers. People think maybe we’re offensively challenged and I’m not so sure we are. I think we’re ball-handling challenged. When we kill some of the turnovers, we’ll be able to score some more points.”

Wabash would continue chugging away in the fourth, using a 10-0 run that was capped off by a three-point play from Wyatt to give the Apaches their biggest lead of the night at 58-44. From there, the hosts chewed up the remainder of the clock to cruise to a comfortable win.

“I thought our kids answered the bell,” Stone said. “They played hard. That’s the best part. We were scrapping and so were they. It was nice, especially against a team that came in 5-2 and the defending sectional champs and probably the favorite to win it again. So, it’s a good win for us.”

Wyatt finished with her own career-high on the night with 17 points while pulling down 12 rebounds. Short chipped in 13 points and eight rebounds as the Wabash trio combined for 49 points, matching Bluffton’s final total.

After righting the ship on Tuesday, Wabash will travel to Rochester High School on Saturday looking to reach .500 again both overall and in Three Rivers Conference play.

“We certainly want to play well,” Stone said. “It’s the same thing as tonight, we just want to get off to a good start. I saw they lost to Southwood last week. We certainly want to go there and get back to .500 (overall), get back to .500 in the conference. We just want to go out and play hard.”

Tip-off for the game is slated for 7:45 p.m.