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  • Val T.

‘You have to want it, and I wanted it:’ Kroft’s 14, Link’s big plays lead Winamac to Indiana Kitchen Classic title

Iverson scores 10, joins Kroft on all-tourney team


BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC


The Winamac girls basketball team defeated Delphi 45-40 on Dec. 23 at Delphi’s Oracle Arena to win the Indiana Kitchen Classic. The holiday tournament title was Winamac’s first since winning the Winter Classic on Dec. 29-30, 2017. The Lady Warriors resume their season with a home game against Knox at 6:30 p.m. Friday.


DELPHI — The excited shrieks coming out of the Winamac girls basketball team’s locker room were a year in the making.

The people who were in that locker room last year recall a 52-18 loss to Delphi in the Indiana Kitchen Classic last year.


Winamac’s Marissa Iverson, left, and Kandace Kroft were named to the Indiana Kitchen Classic all-tournament team. Kroft scored a game-high 14 points, and Iverson had 10 off the bench.

They got their rematch at Oracle Arena on Dec. 23 in the championship game of the Indiana Kitchen Classic, and they showed how much they have progressed with a 45-40 win over the Lady Oracles, showing off their toughness in an intense fourth quarter after Delphi rallied from a 12-point deficit to tie the game.

Facing a box-in-one defense, Kandace Kroft scored a game-high 14 points for Winamac (11-5), including two crucial free throws with 23.7 seconds left to complete the scoring. Marissa Iverson and Sadie Popejoy added 10 each, and Piper Link had eight.

“Eleven and five after four and 20,” Winamac coach Tony Stesiak said, noting his team’s records last year and this year. “The championship after losing to these guys 52-18 on their floor last year to start this thing. That was the team I wanted to play at the end. I thought it was poetic justice. If we were really going to turn this thing around, what better sign than to beat them on their floor after they absolutely boat-raced us last year. The girls bought into that like they have all year.

“They’ve just hung in, and it just means here is our first attempt at a young team still to win a championship, and we did, and I’m just happy for the community, the players, the former players, everybody because this community has been starving for success, and … these girls have worked really hard. To give them something for their loyalty and effort means a lot to me.”

Junior forward Jenna Roth, who came in averaging 16 points per game, led Delphi (10-6) with 12.

Kroft and Iverson made the all-tournament team, but the biggest plays late might have come from Link.

First, she scored on a putback with 7:07 left to put Winamac ahead for good at 37-35.

At 40-37, she remembered a lesson coaches have tried to instill in her. When on the perimeter, look opposite. And there on the opposite side of the court was Popejoy. Link dished a chest pass to Popejoy, giving the freshman sharpshooter an open 3-point look from the left wing.

Bang. Winamac was up by six.

“That kick out to Popejoy was amazing because Sadie had just missed a shot before that, and I said, ‘You’re fine. Keep shooting,’” Stesiak said. “We want her to keep shooting, and that was a good unselfish play by Piper.”

Lacey Pickering’s 3-pointer with 39.1 seconds left cut the lead back down to three before Kroft’s free throws.

And in a hectic final minute, Link made perhaps her biggest play yet, drawing a charging foul on Roth with 10.6 seconds left. That elicited an explosive cheer from the Winamac bench.

“I saw her coming right at me, and I knew that my other teammate was getting beat, so I thought the best thing to do was just fall,” a smiling Link said. “She was coming fast though.”

Link was asked to describe the feeling of winning a tournament.

“It feels great,” Link said. “Great.”

How would you describe the mood in the locker room after the game?

“Loud,” Link said. “Pretty excited.”

Said Stesiak: “That charge is just being a senior and being in the right place at the right time. You just need those plays.”

Delphi’s only lead was 3-2 in the first quarter, but Winamac followed with a 12-1 run. Kroft had six points in the first quarter, assisting on an Iverson layup before hitting her own 3-pointer to make it 14-4.

Winamac went on another 8-0 run in the second quarter. Kroft hit a pullup 12-foot bank shot and then hit an open 3-pointer as a trailer on a delayed fast break.

An Iverson 10-footer on an inbounds play and an Iverson free throw made it 24-12 with 4:40 left in the half.

“It feels amazing to come back from the season last year to win the tournament,” Iverson said.

Lexi Miller had five points in the second quarter for the Lady Oracles, but the lead stayed at 31-22 at halftime.

Delphi, however, went on an 8-0 run to start the second half. Roth outscored the entire Winamac team 5-4 in the third quarter, including a lefty transition layup that got Delphi within 31-30, but Link stopped a four-and-a-half minute scoring drought with a 15-footer from the left elbow, and Maggie Smith hit an 18-footer later in the quarter as Winamac preserved a 35-33 lead after three quarters.

A Roth driving banker 13 seconds into the fourth quarter tied it, but Roth committed her fourth foul with 7:16 left. Delphi coach David Gilbert removed Roth, and Winamac went on an 8-2 run with her on the bench, including critical putback buckets from Link and Iverson.

“Huge,” Stesiak said of Roth having to sit in the fourth quarter. “She was the focal point of our defense in our mixing of zones. We always wanted to know where she was. I thought she got a little tired actually, and I thought there were some opportunities where maybe she forced some things, but when she’s not on the floor, then it put a lot of focus on (number) 4 (Pickering). Four is really good. We had a hard time staying in front of her. I don’t know that we’ve had a guard get by us seemingly as easy as it was. To get by Maggie Smith is not an easy task. We had a hard time with her, but when 20 (Roth) was out of the game, then we could really focus on 4.

“And like we’ve said a lot this year, there’s very few teams that have the balance that we do. They have two really good players, but I thought at the end of the day, we were just a more complete team, and that’s what makes this team special.”

Iverson, a sophomore, said she worked on her post moves and increasing her strength. She said she spent five days a week in the weight room after she said she got pushed around last year. 

“You have to want it, and I wanted it,” Iverson said. “We all wanted it really bad.”

Winamac 45, Delphi 40

WINAMAC (45) (11-5)

Maggie Smith 1 0-0 2, Kandace Kroft 4 4-6 14, Sadie Popejoy 4 0-0 10, Piper Link 4 0-0 8, Lily Bennett 0 0-0 0, Brody Goodman 0 1-2 1, Marissa Iverson 4 2-7 10, Kaelyn O’Connor 0 0-0 0, Corinne Ulerick 0 0-0 0

TEAM: 17 7-15 45

DELPHI (40) (10-6)

Lacey Pickering 2 1-2 7, Jenna Roth 2 8-14 12, Abby Brown 1 0-0 2, Lexi Miller 1 4-8 6, Maddy Brown 2 1-4 5, Taylor Wells 1 0-0 2, Airy Lattimore 0 0-0 0, Sarah Perry 0 0-0 0, Nikita Lear 1 0-0 2, Payton Morrow 2 0-0 4

TEAM: 12 14-28 40

Three-point field goals:

Winamac 4 (Kroft 2, Popejoy 2),

Delphi 2 (Pickering 2)

Total fouls: Winamac 20, Delphi 21

Fouled out: Roth (DEL), :10.6, fourth

Turnovers: Winamac 19, Delphi 16

Score by quarters

Winamac 16 15 4 10 45

Delphi 10 12 11 7 40


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