CULVER — The sixth-ranked Lady Cavaliers found themselves in familiar territory Saturday.
Locked in a defensive battle with Winamac in the Class 2A North Newton Sectional championship, the Warriors’ zone had contained twin towers Gwen Zehner and Patrice McBee throughout the night, and the Cavs found themselves trailing by one point, 23-22. Most coaches would have been nervous, but not Culver head coach Tony Scheub.
“It was kind of funny because we were down one to Boone Grove also going into the fourth quarter, and I just told the girls that we were in this same position yesterday and we battled through it. We took it one possession at a time on Friday and we were going to do the same thing (Saturday),” he said.
“There was never a doubt in my mind that we were going to win this game. These girls have worked so hard all season long, and I had full confidence that they were going to pull through. I just told the girls after the game that not one time during that game did I think that we were not going to win that game.”
Sure enough, senior guard Whitney Sanders took the team on her shoulders in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of her game-high 13 points to lift the team to a convincing 34-25 win and the team’s first sectional championship since 2002.
“We struggled offensively all night, and she kind of stepped up in the fourth quarter,” Scheub said of the 5-foot-3 guard. “She made a couple big defensive plays, and she was able to hit a huge 3-pointer for us and then knock down some free throws and definitely helped seal the victory for us.
“Credit the girls for really fighting through it and being mentally tough and coming out on top.”
When a new coach takes over a basketball program, there’s usually a learning curve involved. But instead of a rebuilding year, the Lady Cavs have had a banner year since Scheub took the reins from three-year Culver head coach and former Triton High School standout Ashli Faulkner this season.
The Cavaliers have rattled off 23 wins with just one loss, ticking off goal after goal along the way: a Holiday Tournament championship at home on December 22, a Bi-County tourney championship win over four-time defending champ Oregon-Davis on January 22, a perfect 7-0 Northern State Conference campaign for top honors there and Saturday’s Sectional 34 crown.
“From day one they’ve never questioned anything; just jumped on board and worked hard the whole season,” Scheub said. “I’m really proud of the fact that, it’s probably hard for five seniors to get a new coach their senior year and kind of change things around, but not one time did they question anything. I think that is a big reason why we’re where we’re at right now.”
Now the Cavaliers have their sights set on even bigger game as they host Wheeler (13-9) in regional play following the tourney opener between Fairfield (17-3) and Garrett (22-2) at 10 a.m. Saturday at Culver. The championship is set for 7 p.m. EST.
After three straight games on the road at Morocco, the team is looking forward to being back in familiar territory at John R. Nelson Gymnasium.
“We were the farthest-traveling team in our sectional, and we had to do it three times so to have the regional at home, it is a great advantage to us,” said Scheub. “I was really excited because we had a great crowd at Friday and Saturday’s games, so I can just imagine what the crowd is going to be like this weekend. They weren’t only big in number, but they were also loud and I think the girls really fed off of that so I’m really looking forward to the home crowd on Saturday.”