by Jason Herd
For the Pharos-Tribune
Entering Saturday’s contest at Caston, the Wabash boys basketball team had lost five of their last seven, including an unthinkable 90-point obliteration at the hands of Tippecanoe Valley the night before.
Such a devastating loss would certainly justify a sense of hopelessness and despair among the players. But the Apaches chose another path. Instead of rolling over, coach Tom Robbins’ squad turned that despair into vengeance and took the fight to the Comets.
Wabash survived two key runs by Caston and battled back for a 58-56 victory.
After Wabash (5-10) opened the game with 3s by Tyler King and Breyton Nealis, Caston closed the first quarter with a 9-2 run to hold an 18-10 lead, fueled by a barrage of 3-pointers by Jake Howdeshell and Corey Moss.
Quentin Douglass gave the Comets (12-6) their largest lead of the game at 10 with a bucket to start the second period. The junior had a game-high 29 points in the game.
The Apaches responded with a 9-0 run to get within one with 1:28 to play in the half. Andrew Adamson scored five points in the surge, including a 3 at the 4:23 mark. Caston managed just two field goals in the quarter, mainly due to strong ball pressure by the Apaches. After a tip-in by freshman Brayton Jellison, Adamson nailed two free throws to keep the one-point deficit in tact at 22-21 at the half.
Grant Sailors’ putback at the start of the third gave the Apaches their first lead since the 3:16 mark of the first quarter. Another Adamson three extended the lead to four with 4:23 to play. With Caston’s perimeter shooters covered up, Douglass attacked the lane with regularity. The junior scored 10 points in the period and catapulted the Comets ahead with a layup at the 3:15 mark. He then found Moss for a 3 later in the period, which extended the Comet lead to seven with 1:28 to play. Caston had regained the momentum and began dictating the tempo.
Wabash began the final period with a fullcourt press and paid for it initially when Douglass found sophomore Jake Kingery for a layup at the 7:41 mark, giving the Comets a 40-34 advantage.
But the press would pay huge dividends down the stretch, causing uncharacteristic mistakes by Caston. After another driving layup by Douglass gave Caston a 47-38 advantage at the 4:09 mark, Wabash chipped away at the lead.
The comeback was undoubtedly fueled by Nealis, who scored eight points in the quarter. The senior had two steals leading to layups down the stretch and gave Caston fits inbounding the ball.
With 20 seconds left to play, Moss missed a baseline jumper to tie the game. Grant Sailors then hit two free throws to seal the win for Wabash.
Nealis led the Apaches with 16 points, followed by Adamson with 13.
“After we lost two key players earlier this season, we decided to hang our hat on ball pressure,” Robbins said. “We pressed [Friday] against Valley, and it backfired. [Saturday], it was the reason we won.”
Caston travels to Manchester on Thursday night.