MISHAWAKA — Christian Wittendorf never hesitated.
It didn’t matter that the Penn High junior had shot just one time all evening, when the ball came to him with 33 seconds to play and his team down one, Wittendorf fired the shot like he was shooting in his own backyard with no pressure and no defense.
Wittendorf’s 22-foot 3-pointer gave Penn the lead and his two free throws with 15 seconds to play gave them a little breathing room and room to survive, as Penn held on to defeat South Bend Clay 75-72 Friday, March 1, in the semifinals of the Class 4A Mishawaka Sectional.
The 17-4 Kingsmen will now play Saturday against South Bend Adams (20-2) for the sectional title. Adams defeated South Bend Washington 56-47 in the evening’s second game.
“Our coaches teach us to be confident and just step up and take the shot,’’ Wittendorf said. “I saw Austin (Torres) with the ball at the top of the key and I thought he’d drive to the basket, but when he swung it to me I just said a little prayer and took the shot.’’
“We really didn’t have a set play at the end,’’ Penn coach Al Rhodes admitted. “We were looking to get a good look at the basket and I thought we did a great job of finding Christian in a great spot for him.’’
Down one, Clay brought the ball upcourt and senior Taron Miller tried a twisting layup in traffic that fell of the rim into the hands of Wittendorf, who was fouled quickly. His ensuing free throws with 15 seconds on the clock made it 73-70.
The Colonials would score on a rebound bucket by Darren Taylor with 3 seconds left and Clay used its last timeout. Penn would get the ball inbounds to Conner Sowders, who was quickly fouled. The senior calmly hit both free throws with 2.7 seconds showing on the clock.
Clay’s Gilbert Williams would get a shot off from just inside half-court that hit the front of the rim, giving Penn the win.
Perhaps the key moment in the game came with just over three minutes remaining and Clay up four (65-61). That’s when Colonial coach Joe Huppenthal took some of the momentum away from his team by calling for his team to run a much more deliberate offensive scheme.
“I won’t call it a delay. We were trying to make their defense work some and they were also running a half-court trap,’’ Huppenthal said. “Plus, when we were able to get the ball to Kenny (Jones), he was going to take the ball to the basket and that worked for a couple free throws for us.’’
But it also helped a Penn team that appeared rattled by the Colonials full-court pressure defense and quickness.
Clay helped the Kingsmen comeback by hitting just four of their eight free throw attempts in a 1:15 span that led to a Jordan Geist 3-point shot at the 1:47 mark that tied the game at 68.
“Give Clay a lot of credit for playing so hard and so well,’’ Rhodes said. “Their press caused some problems, but we play pretty well at a faster pace too and it often opens things up for Austin Torres to run the floor and get some layups. I thought we handled things pretty well tonight against a very athletic defense.’’
Torres would finish with 23 points and eight rebounds for Penn, while Sowders added 18 points and Geist 16. Jones scored 21 points to lead Clay — two coming on a resounding alley-oop dunk that nearly brought the house down late in the third quarter. Darren Taylor added 19 for Clay, while Taron Miller had 13.
Class 4A Mishawaka Sectional Semifinals
Penn 75, SB Clay 72
Penn — Jordan Geist 4-11 7-11 16, Cory Kreiger 0-3 3-4 3, Austin Torres 10-14 3-6 23, Christian Wittendorf 2-2 2-4 8, Conner Sowders 5-12 5-6 18, Nate Miller 1-1 0-0 2, Billy Doslak 0-2 2-2 2, Ryan Lutz 0-0 0-0 0, Mikey Szrom 1-2 1-1 3. Totals: 23-47 (.484) 23-34 (.672) 75.
Clay — Darren Taylor 7-14 3-4 17, Marcus Wilkerson 5-7 0-0 11, Martavious Richmond 3-6 0-0 10, Taron Miller 6-12 3-4 15, Kenny Jones 7-12 7-9 21, Khalin Diggins 0-0 0-0 0, Emeka Andrews 0 0-2 0, Gilbert Williams 0-2 0-0 0, Dion Harris 0-1 0-0 0, Dante Howard 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 28-54 (.516) 13-19 (.688) 72.
Scoring By Quarters
Penn 16 19 19 21 — 75
Clay 16 18 17 21 — 72
3-point goals: Penn (6-13) — Sowders 3-7, Wittendorf 2-2 Geist 1-2; Clay (3-9) — Richmond 2-3, Wilkerson 1-2.
Rebounds: Penn (30) — Torres 9; Clay (34) — Jones 9.
Assists: Penn (10) — Geist 4; Clay (8) — Wilkerson 3.
Turnovers: Penn 14, Clay 13.
Fouls: Penn 17, Clay 23. Fouled out — Wilkerson.
Records: Penn 17-4, Clay 13-9.
Next: Penn vs. SB Adams, Saturday, March 2, in semifinals of Class 4A Mishawaka Sectional, 7:30 p.m.
Other semifinal: Adams 56, Washington 47.