The Whitewater boys entered the Region 4-AAAAA tournament at 14-11, a No. 3 seed and perhaps unsure of themselves.
The Wildcats exited with newfound confidence and a region championship trophy.
Paying tribute to late assistant coach Noah Chalkley on the court at Ola, where Chalkley’s name was painted, Whitewater beat county rival Starr’s Mill 50-32 in the tournament final Friday night.
Chalkley died on Jan. 10, and Whitewater used that event as emotional fuel once they got to the region tournament.
“When we lost him, it really shook our world,” said Whitewater coach Jason Barnes. “Most teen-agers aren’t used to dealing with mortality. They all loved coach Chalk. I’m the head coach, but this was his team. I’m proud of them, because they persevered.”
Starr’s Mill (17-10) had beaten the Wildcats (17-11) twice by a combined four points in two regular-season games. This one seemed headed for another tight contest. The Panthers led 24-22 at halftime, but managed just eight points in the second half, including just two in the fourth period.
Whitewater sprinted took the lead in the third quarter with a 10-0 run in the third quarter, and Starr’s Mill went the first seven minutes of the fourth without scoring as the Wildcats pulled away.
“We challenged them at halftime,” Barnes said, “and if you want to honor coach Chalk, then you’ve got to play better defense.”
Darious Sharp scored 20 points to lead Whitewater and Junaid Olusesi added 13. Jeremiah Vrudny scored 12 to lead Starr’s Mill.