Last night (2/20/20), the Wheeler Wildcats hosted the Shiloh Generals for a second-round 7A state playoff game. A cold, damp evening with warnings of black ice didn’t prevent the Wildcat faithful from coming out to support the home team. Wildcat Arena was loud and packed with thousands of fans.
The game started even, with each team trying to figure the other one out. The first quarter ended in a deadlock, 16-16. Both coaches used the quarter to engineer their strategies for the rest of the game. Wheeler head Coach Larry Thompson knew his team was in for a challenge. “They’re a good basketball team,” he said. “They’ve won 24 games this year, so we are coming with the expectation of a fight.”
The fight favored the Generals in the second quarter, with the Wildcats getting pushed around a bit. The Generals took a four-point lead into halftime, 31-27. Down, but not out, Coach Thompson took his team to the lockers for mid-game strategy adjustments and motivation.
The Wildcat team that re-appeared to start the second half was focused and ready to get to work. Wheeler showed its defensive prowess by holding the Generals to a mere 6 points in the quarter, while scoring 12. The Wildcats more than made up the deficit and held on to a two-point lead, 37-39, heading into the fourth quarter.
The final quarter in regulation was back and forth, with both teams finding moments of brilliance and seizing the momentum. The Wildcats briefly took a four-point lead with an and-1 free-throw early in the quarter, but the spread was rarely more than two points all period. Shiloh ate up the final minute of the game passing the ball around the key, not willing to jeopardize a 52-52 tie and the scene was set for an overtime period.
With the game clock set at four minutes, the crowd leaned in, ready for a show. The Wildcats scored the first 7 points in the period, forcing Shiloh to call a timeout. Despite several three-point shots from their offense (including a four-pointer), the Generals played from behind the entire overtime period, never quite able to catch up. It was Wheeler’s night. The Wildcats never gave up the OT lead to win the game, 64-65.
Despite being slightly under the weather, Coach Thompson was thrilled with the win. “It feels great,” he said with cheering Wildcat fans surrounding him. “Sickness was all around the team this week; we had guys missing practice and I’m sick myself. We made a lot of mistakes tonight, but we found a way and we’re moving on. Survive and advance is the name of game.”
And advancing they are: the Wildcats will be hosting the Berkmar Patriots on Wednesday (2/26/20) at 7 PM for the final home game in Wildcat Arena this season. Plan to be there to cheer on your Wheeler Wildcats as they continue their quest for a state championship…