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Walter's huge fourth stops Apache skid

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

Jasper Walter has spent much of the second half of the season bouncing between junior varsity and limited varsity action for the Wabash boys’ basketball team. But in the words of the jovial and joking head coach Paul Wright, “his quarters might have gone up” after Friday’s performance.

Desperate to stop their three-game skid and clinging to a tie atop the Three Rivers Conference (TRC), the Apaches led only briefly through the opening three quarters at home against Rochester on Monday. But the fourth quarter proved to be Walter’s coming out party as the sophomore poured in six three-pointers and 20 points in the frame and helped Wabash overcome a 15-point first-quarter deficit to win 65-50.

“He’s done that the last couple of games,” Wright said of Walter’s play. “That’s not the first time we’ve seen that this year. Now, it’s the first time he’s done that in big minutes. If a team’s going to (run) a 2-3 zone against us, we have to be able to hit some threes and he did that for us tonight.

“That’s what he’s been able to do all year for our JV and parts of the varsity. But this was some big minutes he played really for the first time this year. He’s capable of doing that and that’s why he’s been playing more and more.”

Having cut a 21-6 first-quarter Zebra lead down to as little as three points in the third period, the Apaches struggled to get over the hump and re-seize the lead. Walter and Trenton Daughtry, though, come up big for the Apaches in the fourth. Daughtry started the quarter with a layup before a three-pointer from Walter tied the game 55 seconds into the period.

While Brady Perez responded with a jumper, Walter gave the hosts their first lead since early in the first with a three-pointer 80 seconds into the fourth. Thirty-two seconds later, he connected on his third three-pointer to give Wabash a 47-43 advantage.

Daughtry joined the party, connecting on his own corner three-pointer and layup before Walter’s fourth three-pointer, this coming from the corner, put Wabash ahead 55-46 with 3:57 left. While Rochester answered many of the baskets with scores of its own, the Zebras never connected from range while Walter continued his barrage.

After an offensive rebound and layup from Dereck Vogel, Walter hit his fifth and sixth threes of the period on either side of a jumper from Nick Allen for the guests. The guard capped off his career night with a pair of free throws with 53 seconds left to seal Wabash’s 15-point win.

“It was a big win,” Wright said. “We were kind of in a rut. Rochester’s played some good teams and they’ve had some close games in this conference. We knew it was going to be a tough one. I’m just proud of the kids and how they came out. They didn’t worry about the adversity in the first quarter. This was big.”

Coming in on a losing streak, the Apaches looked the part of a team stuck in a rut in the opening frame. After briefly leading 6-4 following a three-pointer from Daughtry, who finished with 20 points, Wabash watched a familiar scene play out as the Zebras scored 17 unanswered to close the period with a 21-6 lead.

As poor as the first period was, the Apaches responded in big fashion, outscoring Rochester 17-7 in the second quarter capped off by a 6-0 run heading into the half by Daughtry to pull with five at 28-23 heading into the locker room.

Back-to-back three-pointers from Allen and Kalvary Lingenfelter for Rochester in the opening minute of the third pushed the lead back to double digits at 34-23 and forced an Apache timeout. From that moment forward over the final 15 minutes, Wabash outscored the Zebras 42-16.

Logan Vander Velden and Daughtry started off the streak with consecutive baskets before a pair of free throws from Vander Velden and a three-pointer from Walter to close the deficit to 36-32 after a 9-2 run. Rochester would answer each Wabash basket to close the third ahead 41-36.

The Apaches, though, poured in 29 points in the fourth while limiting the Zebras to nine points.

“I just told them in there, the last three quarters is the team we saw in January and December,” Wright said. “When you play hard, good things happen. I thought we played well in the second quarter even when we were losing. We just kept building up. I thought it started in the second quarter. I was pleased with how they responded to the adversity tonight and stepped up.”

Vander Velden finished with six points, Blake Gribben added five and Jordan Holley chipped in four points in the win. The victory proved to be crucial in many ways as Manchester’s own comeback victory on Friday allowed the Squires to keep pace with the Apaches atop the TRC.

Wabash is atop the conference with one more game played at 7-1. Manchester is even in the loss column with the Apaches at 5-1. Tippecanoe Valley and Peru both have two losses at 6-2 and 4-2, respectively. The Apaches’ final game of the season will be at home against Peru on Feb. 22 with a conference title on the line.

“After we played Tippecanoe Valley,” Wright said, “I told them ‘Yeah, this sucks. But we’re still first in the conference. We’re tied now, but we’re still first in the conference.’ So, this was a huge game. This was a big game. We only have two (conference) games left. Our margin for error isn’t a lot if we want to win a conference championship. It’s big for a lot of reasons and I’m just proud of the kids.

“We’re going to have to get better and then in two weeks, we have Peru in the last conference game on our home floor for the conference championship. What else could you ask for to finish out the season.”

The Apaches traveled to take on Lewis Cass on Saturday but results were unavailable as of Plain Dealer deadline. Wabash will travel to Eastbrook on Tuesday.