MIDDLEBURY — Other than the aspect of elimination, March Madness had just about nothing on its distant cousin, who we’ll call November Numbness, in this one.
Junior Ben Byrkett – a defensive specialist who hadn’t scored all evening – swished a 3-pointer just left of the top of the key as time expired to lift Westview to an enthralling 59-58 boys basketball victory over host Northridge on Saturday in front of a near-capacity crowd.
From the rocking by that crowd to the improbable conqueror that Byrkett was, to a superstar performance by a superstar player (that would be Charlie Yoder, who had 34 points, 11 rebounds and four assists for the winners), to comebacks by both sides, to spot-on shooting (the two teams combined for a net effective field goal percentage of 57.2 to go with 22-of-26 free-throw accuracy), to single-digit turnovers by each club, to all of it coming against high-intensity, purpose-based defense, this game offered oodles, and plenty of those oodles were ones that, again, belied the calendar.
It was, after all, the Warriors’ season opener off heavy graduation losses, and the Raiders’ home opener after graduating premier scorer Jackson Erekson.
To be sure, it also still wasn’t perfect, especially from the perspective of Northridge.
The Raiders (1-1) led 57-51 with possession and less than a minute to go, but then twice coughed up turnovers and missed a free throw to set the stage for Byrkett.
Westview junior Drew Litwiller hit two free throws off the first turnover and drained a triple off the second to pull the Warriors to within 57-56 at 20 seconds to go.
Clay Stoltzfus made 1-of-2 at the line for Northridge at 12 seconds left, before Byrkett buried his game-winner off a sharp feed from Blake Egli and got gang-tackled by his delirious teammates.
“That’s not the play that lost us the game,” Raider coach Scott Radeker said of Byrkett’s open look that was also just his second attempt of the night.
“The plays that lost us the game were just getting off to a slow start, not executing offensively early in the game (leading to a 26-18 halftime deficit), and then having a six-point lead with a minute to go and not taking care of the basketball,” Radeker said. “We got sped up a little bit. Those are things we gotta learn from, but the (last possession), we defended about as well as we could. We got the ball out of their two leading scorers’ hands (Yoder and Litwiller), and to the kid who hadn’t done much.”
Westview brought the ball up the floor at the end without a commitment to a particular play, according to coach Rob Yoder.
“We didn’t have timeouts left, so we just spread it,” Yoder said. “We figured Charlie would get a couple guys at him (it ended up being three shadowing him, per his coach and father), and maybe if we kicked it, we’d get an open look. It wasn’t any design other than spread it for our two best shooters in the corner initially and end up having a good look.”
The younger Yoder did get the ball at one point in the closing sequence, but against a pending swarm, he calmly found Egli, who in turn found Byrkett, who had all of two career varsity points to his credit before the shot.
While Yoder didn’t take that last one, he certainly positioned the Warriors at the cusp of the victory by way of his play throughout.
The lethal lefty’s 34 points included a dozen off second chances, leading Westview to a hearty 14-4 advantage in that category that Radeker pointed to as another key in the loss.
Yoder passed 1,500 career points, landing at 1,514. The 6-foot-4 Indiana All-Star candidate is on pace to shatter non-relative Gary Yoder’s school record of 1,711 that has stood for 36 years.
Litwiller added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Warriors.
Senior center Alex Stauffer paced Northridge with 16 points and nine rebounds while hitting 7-of-9 from the field.
Junior Sam Smith added 15 points, 13 of those coming in the second half, on 7-of-7 marksmanship at the line and 67 effective field goal percentage, while senior Camden Knepp tallied 10 points on 100% EFG.
The Raiders twice trailed by 10 points in the third quarter and by seven a minute into the fourth before storming back for their late six-point lead.
“I’m proud of the guys on that,” Radeker said. “We got stops when we needed and we executed on the other end, made some nice plays to build the lead up to six.”
Rob Yoder, in turn, was thrilled by his primarily untested club’s closing response to giving up a 10-point lead.
“I think that speaks volumes about our guys,” Yoder said. “They could’ve crawled into a hole there, especially when you’re not experienced, but basketball is a game of runs, and we snuck one out of here.”
WESTVIEW 59, NORTHRIDGE 58
WESTVIEW: Charlie Yoder 12-23 7-9 34, Mason Yoder 1-4 0-0 3, Drew Litwiller 4-7 2-2 11, Blake Egli 2-5 1-4 5, Ben Byrkett 1-2 0-0 3, Lyndon Miller 0-3 0-0 0, Brady Yoder 1-4 0-0 3, Drew Miller 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 21-49 (.429) 9-11 (.818) 59.
NORTHRIDGE: Camden Knepp 4-5 0-0 10, Alex Stauffer 7-9 2-2 16, Sam Smith 3-6 7-7 15, Drew Gayler 1-4 2-2 5, Carter Stoltzfus 2-4 0-0 4, Clay Stoltzfus 0-4 2-4 2, Trevor Brown 1-1 0-0 3, Brandon Miller 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 19-34 (.559) 13-15 (.867) 58.
3-point goals: Westview (8-27) – C. Yoder 3-9, Byrkett 1-2, M. Yoder 1-3, Litwiller 1-3, Egli 1-4, B. Yoder 1-4; Northridge (7-14) — Knepp 2-3, Smith 2-3, Brown 1-1, Miller 1-1, Carter Stoltzfus 1-2. Rebounds: Westview (27) — C. Yoder 11, Litwiller 8. Northridge (19) — Stauffer 9, Smith 4. Assists: Westview (12) — C. Yoder 4; Northridge (14) — Gayler 4. Total fouls: Westview 14, Northridge 14. Fouled out: none. Turnovers: Westview 9, Northridge 8.
Records: Westview 1-0, Northridge 1-1.
JV: Northridge 57, Westview 25. Top scorers: Northridge — Micah Hochstetler 17, Jonah Steiner 10.