Monday, December 18th, 2006
St. Henry loses season opener to Wapak
By Gary R. Rasberry
WAPAKONETA - Given the physicalness of the play at times, Saturday's St. Henry-Wapakoneta boys basketball game could have been moved to Harmon Field, Wapak's football complex.
Both teams played a physical contest - 41 personal fouls were called - as St. Henry finally got their basketball season started.
St. Henry stayed tough with a strong Wapak squad, but the homestanding Redskins took a 56-50 win in the annual battle of Redskins. Wapak improves to 3-0 on the season.
Joe Niekamp, who had his St. Henry squad for just seven practices after the football team won the Division V state title, was pleased with his team's play.
"I told them I'm not disapointed one bit," said Niekamp. "It's a rough beginning that you're prone to see early in the year. The way we played in the second half, there's a lot of things we can build on."
While the play of the game sometimes had a football feel, Niekamp's substitution pattern had a feel of a line change in hockey. The first two times St. Henry substituted, Niekamp brought in five players at a time.
"For our experienced guys, there was no way they would have energy in the tank to play the normal rotations," said coach Niekamp, who played all 14 players on his roster. "I thought some of the kids did some good things off the bench."
"You get a WBL and a MAC team together, you're going to have a physical battle," said Wapak coach Scott Minnig, who was an assistant at St. John's before heading to Wapak. "It sure was tonight."
Early on, the Redskins worked hard at keeping Wapak's 6-7 center B.J. Reed under wraps. Reed came into the game averaging 22 points and 16 rebounds a game, but with 6-5 Mitch Niekamp and other St. Henry post players keeping a body on him, Reed finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
That left the outside open, allowing Kyle Maus to hit some early threes, which sparked a 12-0 run in the first quarter to put Wapak up 12-5. St. Henry went cold for five minutes after getting out to a hot start.
"There were times we lost track of our guys on the perimeter," said coach Niekamp. "Make no mistake, B.J. is an outstanding player. We saw him play (Friday, against Defiance) and he was dominant. He's going to be that type of player with his size. We just wanted to reduce his touches."
"I knew they were watching him and were going to key on him," said Minnig of Reed. "They were real physical and banged him around. He stayed within him and got other guys shots, which is key."
The line change subsitution pattern allowed St. Henry to work a full-court press that caused some havoc in the Wapak offense. Wapak committed 23 turnovers in the game.
St. Henry stayed with Wapakoneta through the first half before finally clicking on its shooting in the second half. Andy Puthoff, scoreless in the first half, got hot, hitting a three-pointer with 5:25 to go in the third quarter to tie the game at 33-all, the first tie of the game, St. Henry went out in front 43-40 at the end of the quarter.
Wapak came back, getting the lead back for good with 3:31 left in the contest when Randy Schmerge drove the lane, hit the runner and was fouled. The made (Continued from page 1B)
free throw gave Wapak a 49-47 win. Zach Brown followed a with a three-pointer with 2:49 left to push it to 52-47. St. Henry got back to within two with a Mitch Niekamp trey with 1:12 left in the game, but Darren Erb's bunny with 59 seconds left iced the game, with two Wapak free throws later pushing the final margin to six.
"It was a physical game. Unfortunately for us, it was a little sloppy at times," said coach Niekamp. "We had several of those unforced turnovers when we got into a hurry. To be successful against a good team like Wapakoneta, we have to clean those things up.
"Overall, I think the kids' effort was outstanding. We played more like we want to play in the second half. We were harder to guard."
St. Henry got 13 points from Puthoff and nine from Tyler Post. Mitch Niekamp added eight.
Schmerge led Wapak with 16 points with 12 rebounds. Maus had 12.
St. Henry opens MAC play Tuesday, traveling to Delphos to face St. John's. Tickets will be on sale for season ticket holders tonight from 7 to 7:30 p.m. in the high school office. Remaining tickets will be sold during the school day at the high school. Game time Tuesday is 6 p.m.