Woodlawn upsets rival Spartans
Cardinals fly out to big lead, hold on for 43-42 semifinal win
Never look past a defending champion, no matter what.

Programs like Woodlawn might have down years, but they should never be counted out.

In the first season under new head coach Brian Gamber, these Cardinals went through a transition phase and the losses added up.

But what has emerged is a young team with a senior leader that is now on the cusp of adding to the legacy.

The Woodlawn Cardinals are playing in another regional championship game.

This will mark the tenth consecutive regional championship finale appearance for the Cardinals.

They moved into the title game with a 43-42 win over long-standing Jefferson County rival Waltonville on Wednesday night at the 1A Wayne City Regional.

Coach Gamber's team has struggled this season at times, but they are playing well at the right time, which is what top-shelf programs do.

In the past nine regional title game appearances, the Cardinals are 7-2.

“It (the game) should bring out the best in you. It isn't just a big game because it is Woodlawn/Waltonville. It is a big game because it is a regional semifinal. This is what it is all about,” said Coach Gamber. “They (Waltonville) are so talented and have so many weapons. We told the kids for us to get to where we want to be we have to guard every possession like the game is on the line. I thought the last four minutes, we really guarded them.”

Woodlawn streaked out to a 19-4 lead and held on for the big victory over the Spartans Wednesday night at the 1A Wayne City Regional.

Streaking is an understatement.

The Cardinals hit all seven of their field goal attempts in the opening frame, including five 3-pointers.

Jackson Bennett, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, worked his way free in the early going and nailed two of the long range shots.

He finished with 14-points, which included a pair of very important free throws in the final seconds, to lead the now 15-14 Cardinals to the victory and into the Friday night regional title tilt.

Jordan Hoppa finished his night with nine-points and five-rebounds for Woodlawn.

Hoppa helped get the Cardinals flying early with a 3-pointer for the first points of the game.

Senior leader Blake Wollerman, a 5-foot-9 senior guard, added eight-points as did freshman Blake McKay.

McKay came off the bench and nailed a pair of big 3-point shots.

All postseason losses, especially for seniors, are crushing.

For Waltonville it was the worst beginning possible.

Coach Tyler Mitchell and his club, giving up such a big run to open the game, were forced to play catch up.

Even though they managed to get a couple of brief leads in the second half, they used up a lot of energy to get back into the contest.

Senior guard Isaac McPhail led the Spartans with 20-points in his final prep game.

He hit five 3-pointers for Waltonville, as they rallied in the final two quarters.

Six-foot-three senior Zane Wilson also played his final prep basketball game and ended up with 11-markers.

Six-foot-five junior Tanner Spihlmann added five-points in the low scoring contest as only five players played for Waltonville.

It was clear from the opening tap, the Cardinals were the team ready for the event.

Following Hoppa's first shot in the game, Wollerman and Bennett took command.

The senior leader hit a trey from the right wing and added spinning move in the paint for a lay in and an 8-4 lead.

Then Bennett, who in the second half of the season moved into the starting line up, nailed three consecutive shots.

He drove the middle of the lane for a score and then added two straight 3-pointers.

When Wollerman closed the quarter with a step-back 3-point bomb from the right wing, Woodlawn led 19-4 over a stunned Spartans' team.

Waltonville was just 1-of-7 in the quarter and were in trouble down 15.

McPhail got the Spartans back into the contest in the second quarter, scoring nine-points.

He hit two of his 3-pointers and converted on a drive to the basket while being fouled.

His second of trey's at the 3:50 mark cut the Woodlawn lead to just 21-19.

Woodlawn junior Trey Isaac scored on a baseline drive and McKay beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer from the left wing for a 28-22 lead at halftime.

McPhail continued to carry the offensive for the Spartans, and the senior guard got his team its first lead of the game in the third quarter.

He, and fellow senior teammate Dalton Banach, scored points in an 8-1 run for a 31-30 lead.

McPhail later added 2-of-3 free throws as he was fouled by Bennett while shooting a 3-pointer.

However a rebound bucket by Hoppa gave Woodlawn a 34-33 lead heading to the fourth.

“This time of year is crazy and fun, it is the best time of the year, it is what high school basketball is all about,” said Coach Gamber. “Everyone talks about getting off to a good start. I didn't know that we would get off to that good of a start. We told them it is a great quarter but they are going to make a run, they will start making shots and some of our shots are not going to go in. We just have to withstand it.”

Waltonville never regained the lead but had opportunities slip through their collective fingers during the final eight minutes.

Trailing 38-35 Waltonville got a basket by Spihlmann after a Woodlawn turnover to cut the lead to one.

But McKay sunk a 3-pointer from the right corner to push the lead to 41-37.

After a score in the lane on a cut to the basket by Jourdan made it 41-39 with 2:51 left, the two teams failed to score again for the next 2:40 on the game clock.

Woodlawn could have iced the game but back-to-back trips to the foul line by both Wollerman and Bennett produced nothing, as they both missed 1-and-1 front ends.

Unfortunately the Spartans couldn't score, either.

In the final moments of the game, after the Spartans used their final timeout, Waltonville's Wilson drove to the basket for what would have been a tying bucket.

But Bennett came up with the defensive play of the game, reaching in and cleanly stealing the ball from Wilson.

It turned out that the theft took the game right away from the Spartans.

Bennett was immediately fouled with :10.7.

The sophomore calmly sank both foul shots which sank the Waltonville postseason dreams.

A 3-pointer from McPhail with :06 remaining close the gap to the final score.

Unable to stop the clock, the Spartans watched the Cardinals inbound the ball and get it to the frontcourt as time expired on the game and the Waltonville season.

Both teams were identical from the 3-point line, each hitting 7-of-11, and the rebounding slight edge went to the Cardinals at 15-13.

But the Cardinals were much better from the floor, hitting 17-of-28 overall (60.7 percent) as they survived nine turnovers.

“I thought toughness and competitiveness won out for us tonight, it allowed us to hang in there and hold them off,” said Coach Gamber. “I thought we really guarded and challenged them. We rebounded well and held on to it. Then he (Bennett) made the two free throws down the stretch.”

Coach Mitchell's team was just 13-of-33 overall and many of the missed shots were from point-blank range.

They committed just four turnovers.

Waltonville closed its season at 19-8 with the defeat.

Woodlawn will play in the regional title game against MTC and Jefferson County rival Webber Township, who ousted Wayne City 49-45 Tuesday night in the other semifinal.

The game will be played Friday night at 7 pm.

Woodlawn (43) – Isaac 2 0 0-0 4, Wollerman 1 2 0-1 8, Bennett 3 2 2-3 14, Hoppa 3 1 0-0 9, Ashby 0 0 0-0 0, McKay 1 2 0-0 8, Devore 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-10, 3FG-7, FT-2-4, PF-14.

Waltonville (42) – McPhail 1 5 3-4 20, Banach 1 0 2-4 4, Jourdan 1 0 0-0 2, Spihlmann 1 0 3-4 5, Wilson 2 2 1-1 11. 2FG-6, 3FG-7, FT-9-13, PF-12.
Fouled Out – None.
Technical Fouls – None.