Western clinches district championship
The Walled Lake Western boys basketball team proved the old adage that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Seniors Delano Smith and Cody White led a fourth quarter charge to give the Warriors the MHSAA district championship with a 51-45 victory over Walled Lake Central on Friday, March 10.
The dynamic duo of Smith and White combined to score 29 second half points to give Western their first MHSAA district championship since 2004. Coach Dennis Butcher’s message to the team was simple: “Let’s put a number up there on the board.” He was referring to the basketball chart in the gym highlighting the accomplishments of the boys’ teams from the past.
Smith was almost a one man wrecking crew in the third quarter, exploding for the first 11 of the Warriors’ points to turn a 21-16 half-time deficit into a 25-24 lead. Central answered with back-to-back three-pointers by Runako Ziegler and Christian Isso to take a 30-25 lead into the fourth quarter.
Senior Kam Ford’s basket, followed by Smith’s 18-foot jumper, gave the Warriors the lead for good at 33-31 with 5:18 left. Smith’s thunderous dunk with 3:04 left brought the house down as the host Warriors went on to the 51-45 victory.
“First half we were really tight on the offensive end,” said Butcher. “I thought if we could calm ourselves down in the second half we would have a lot more success and we did. Delano was a big part of that with 22 points in the second half.”
Central led 7-5 at the end of the first quarter, 21-16 at the half and 30-25 going into the decisive fourth quarter. Ziegler had seven points, while Anthony Qarana had two three-balls for the Vikings to give Central a 30-25 half-time lead.
“Everybody started seeing the floor better in the second half and we weren’t as nervous with the ball,” said Butcher. “Fortunately, we settled down in the nick of time. Central has a heck of a team and it feels good to get by.”
After losing the final KLAA Conference title to Walled Lake Central two weeks ago, the Warriors (17-6) came back on their home floor to punch their ticket to the regionals where they battled Novi (17-6) on Monday night.
Smith led the way for Western with 26 points, while White added 12. The Warriors hit 19 of 25 free throws on the night, including 14 in the fourth quarter. Ziegler closed out his career at Central with 25 points in his final game as a Viking.
“It just feels great,” said White. “We’ve worked so hard for this and to end with a win in the district and keep going is a great feeling. We had a second wind in the second half and we pulled it out.”