Experience outpaced youth 75-66 when the Homer-Center boys snatched the District 6 Heritage Conference title on the road at Marion Center.
The Wildcats had a bumpy start in the Tuesday contest. Unable to find their rhythm, they were losing the battle on the boards, and their shots weren’t falling. The Stingers jumped out to an early 7-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
“We knew that it would be a battle,” Homer-Center coach Bob Rado said of the MC match-up. “It always is when we play this team. (Alex) Patterson was a threat who created some things for their offense, but we switched to man and fought back from an early deficit.”
Rado elaborated on the team’s slow start: “I can’t say enough about Mike Walker through the whole game offensively. If it wasn’t for Mike in the first half, we could have been down 20 points.
“He held us in there with his shooting, and he had his touch tonight. We needed him tonight on the offensive end, and he came through in flying colors.'”
Taking the reins, Walker scored 20 points in the first half, and he racked up a game-high 33 for the night. Defensively, he also had a significant impact. He contributed two critical blocked shots and two defensive rebounds in the last two minutes of the game to solidify the win.
“It feels great,” Walker said of claiming the conference championship. “They ran that 1-3 zone, which makes it kind of hard to pound the ball inside like we wanted to do. And with one person at the top, it leaves the perimeter wide open.
“So, if you give me the perimeter, even if I start out 0-for-5, I’m going to keep shooting. If someone gives me daylight from outside, I’m going to shoot it. If they switch to something like a 3-2, we’ll dump it in down low. We’re lucky to have weapons on both sides.”
H-C’s other double-digit scoring weapons were Craig Ciranni and Garrett Sisak, each with 14 points.
Instead of over-working the x’s and o’s and making adjustments throughout the game, Rado said he told his team to remain consistent, patient and evenly paced. As the momentum began to swing, the senior core of the Wildcats never wavered.
“We wanted to keep playing the way that we were playing, but we switched up and mixed in a few different schemes,” he said. “We tried the triangle and two to work the ball inside more on offense. Then we experimented with the press defensively. That went horrendously, so we got out of that and went man so that we didn’t have to think as much and just play.”
Letting the ‘Cats “just play” appeared to alleviate the pressure of the event and allowed the team to fall into something more familiar. Also, by pulling back, Rado was able to rely on the experience and confidence of his team to prevail.
“Our kids played hard,” explained Marion Center coach Steve Woodrow, “but the bottom line is that we’re still young. We gave up some size match-ups, and we’re still building confidence. We had some players step up, but, like we’ve seen all season, we can’t get all players synchronized for a complete team effort.”
Patterson knocked down a total of 19 points and forced the issue down the lanes. Fellow Stinger Michael Lockhart also had a good inside game, and he netted 14 points and pulled down a game-leading 10 total rebounds. MC’s Jacob Eisenhart also scored in the double-digits with 11 points.
“We’re hoping that this is a confidence booster tonight going in to the playoffs next week,” Woodrow said. “Homer-Center is the number one team in the conference, and we proved to ourselves that we could run pretty well with them.”
Looking forward to the postseason next week, Rado said, “You get in playoffs, and anybody can beat anybody. If you’re off your game and you don’t finish shots and have breakdowns on defense, like we did tonight, you can lose and be done for the year. We don’t want that to happen.
“We’re having too much fun right now to quit early, and I think they’re hungry. They’re after something and they want to be remembered by something.”