by Bella Millians
Saturday night brought another county rivalry matchup with key region implications to Whitewater High. It ended in a split, with the Wildcat boys winning a thriller in game two and the Lady Panthers dominating game one.
The Wildcats ended the night with an exciting win. After a continuous battle on the court, Whitewater completed a comeback and held off a late rally bid by Starr’s Mill to win 60-55.
“Fun is definitely a good way to describe this one. I give credit to Starr’s Mill. They outplayed us most of the game. They wanted it more,” said Whitewater coach Matt Martin. “We just had to battle down the stretch, and we made some good shots, and we got a couple big steals. We just kept battling, and we didn’t quit. That was a good win for us.”
The Panthers dominated the first quarter. They jumped out to a 7-0 advantage, keyed by a Cam Sutherland 3-pointer. Zac Cerniglia, Reese Clevenger, and Brandon Allison also hit from deep as they grew a huge 22-9 lead over the Wildcats to end the first quarter.
The Wildcats fought back by scoring 18 points in the second quarter, with junior point guard Javon Jenkins the catalyst, scoring 9 of the 18. They ended the first half trailing by only one point, 28-27, with Brycen Perkins hitting a 3-pointer for the final bucket.
Whitewater maintained their momentum coming out of the break. They crashed the glass hard, and took the lead at 35-32 with putbacks by Zach Leischner and Jenkins. Momentum switched back to the Panthers as they reeled off a 15-4 run to lead 47-39 heading into the fourth.
The Cats chipped away at the deficit in the final frame. Perkins opened it with a 3-pointer, and Miles Lowe and Omar Ndengey scored down low. Sutherland responded with a three-point play and a 3-pointer to keep the Panthers’ lead at seven points.
The Wildcats started to look to the paint in the second half, and the Panthers had no answer as Ndengey dominated. He scored 24 points on the night, with 18 coming in the second half and 12 in the fourth quarter alone.
“In my mind I was thinking we’re going to get it, just trust in me and trust in the program, and we’re going to get it,” said Ndengey, who shook off early foul trouble to become the focal point of the attack. “I came back in and said give me the ball, and let’s see what we can do. It was working every time. It was clicking. They were just like keep giving it to me, and I started drawing the double team, so I kicked it out. We can do many things, and that’s what was beating them tonight.”
The gap would not last, and, with Ndengey heating up, Whitewater took the lead for just the second time at 54-53. Clevenger swiped it right back at 55-54 with a steal and layup with 90 seconds left, then Ndengey did it again, getting fouled off a steal and sinking a pair of free throws to lead 56-55 with 30 seconds left. He did it one more time, stealing an inbounds pass and scoring at the rack to push it to 58-55.
Starr’s Mill could not hit an open three to tie the game, and Jonah Harvey finished it off at the line with two free throws to win 60-55.
Ndengey led the Wildcats with a game-high 24 points, followed by Jenkins with 10, Perkins with 9, Leischner with 8, Harvey with 6, and Lowe with 3 points.
Sutherland led the Panthers with 15, followed by Clevenger with 12, Malachi Townsend with 8, Cerniglia with 6, Michael Townsend and Brandon Allison with 5, Barrett Hester with 3, and Tim Hall with 1 point.
The Lady Panthers continued their roll through the region with a 61-43 win over Whitewater in the opener.
Just as they had done the previous night against McIntosh, Starr’s Mill jumped out to a big lead against Whitewater with a 15-0 run and never looked back. Alice Anne Hudson led the way early with 10 first-quarter points, and Ryanne King added 5, as they built up a commanding 25-9 advantage.
The lead swelled past 20 points at halftime at 34-13, and kept growing after the break. Ashtyn Lally took the lead in the second half, scoring 11 points, as they led 48-28 after three quarters and cruised to the 61-43 victory.
Hudson led the Panthers in scoring with 16 points, followed by Jaclyn Hester with 15, Lally with 14, King with 7, Julia Godown with 3, and Denise Fajardo, Kara Dial, and Mako Suga with 2 each.
Whitewater’s young core showed promise in the loss. Charity Cloud surged in the second half to score 13 of her team-high 16 points. Sole Chinnery added 9 points, all on 3-pointers, followed by Ellia Chance with 6 points, Cailey Bryant with 5, Nivea Miller with 3, and Leah Smith and Sadie Groenig with 2 points apiece.