When Whitmer lost to eventual state champion Newark, 63-44, in the Division I state semifinal at Value City Arena, it only added to the City League’s mystique. To many observers, the Panthers gave Newark a better game than top-ranked Lakewood St. Edward did in the final.
But it also demonstrated how far the City League’s East Side school, Toledo Waite, had come in varsity boys’ basketball under coach and Waite alumnus Dave Pitsenbarger. Waite was already there in girls’ basketball.
Waite had played Newark during the regular season, losing by only five points, 52-47. That was closer than the 10-point margin St. Ed’s gave Newark (52-42) in the D-I championship.
Even further, led by first team all-city senior guard Khari Riley, in the district semifinal at the University of Toledo’s Savage Hall, the Indians had Whitmer on the ropes early in the game.
Midway through the second period, Waite had already scored 34 points and it looked like the Indians were well on their way to the district final if they could maintain an 11-point lead. Besides, the Indians had defeated Whitmer during the regular season, 52-51.
Then the bottom fell out. The Panthers made 27-of-46 free throws to defeat the Indians 69-61 and end Waite’s season at 14-7.
But who from Toledo can complain, and rightly so. Whitmer (20-5) was playing its best team-basketball during its tournament run and would move on to defeat St. John’s in the district final and win a regional semifinal over state-ranked Perrysburg.
Then, as those of us who attended the game at the University of Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena were saying, Whitmer “manhandled” state-ranked and undefeated Canton Timken in a double-digit regional final victory. Whitmer joined Libbey (D-II) as part of CL tandem to reach the state final four at Value City Arena in Columbus.
Meanwhile, don’t believe for a minute that Coach Pitsenbarger is going to start the rebuilding process this season. Waite could be reloading, instead. The freshman and junior varsity teams both reached the CL final four last year — and there are signs that Waite boys may be joining the girls’ program as an attractive drawing power for local athletes.
“That’s kind of the same attitude we’re trying to instill in these guys — that they just have to believe. We can compete with anybody. We lost to Libbey by four last year and we had the lead with 30 seconds to go. I just told them we need to take it to the next level and finish these guys off. You have to believe.”
So far, the players are buying into what Pitsenbarger’s staff is teaching them. He said other factors have contributed to the Indians’ early success as well.
“We’re going to have to understand what we need to do offensively and defensively and have them believe in us as coaches,” Pitsenbarger said. “We’re going to have to make better decisions. We have a really tough schedule, so they’re going to have to come ready and focused to play every night.”
Is there anyone out there who is a prep basketball fan who can say a girls team with a front line of 6-3, 6-2, and 6-2 won’t be competitive?
The Waite girls return 6-3 junior forward Natasha Howard, and add to the mix 6-2 sophomore center Shanice McNeal and 6-2 junior forward Amanda Gregory. That doesn’t include all the backcourt talent the Indians have.
In turn, Waite was picked to win a City title, despite losing it to Central Catholic last season. The Indians have already opened with a drubbing at the hands of North Euclid Regina, but don’t think for a minute that doesn’t mean Waite won’t be in the CL final four or competitive when it comes to the 2009 tournament trail.
Coach Manny May believes a decrease in mistakes and turnovers could spell the difference by the time the season reaches its prime.
“We had quite a few last year but we had fewer at the end of the season. We lived with some young mistakes last year,” May said.