Whittell boys delivers second state championship in three seasons
The Whittell boys basketball team achieved everything it wanted to during the 2015-16 season. For the Warriors, the final objective was returning to the top of the state.
Whittell beat Word of Life Christian Academy (Las Vegas) 53-48 in the Div. IV State championship Saturday, Feb. 27, at Lawlor Events Center. The Warriors rode strong defense and timely offense to prevail in a tight contest and deliver a second state title in three seasons.
“It’s a state championship and that was our goal from the beginning of the year,” Warriors senior Palmer Chaplin said. “We did it — it’s a lot of emotion.”
In a battle of top seeds from the North and South, neither team could separate itself early on. Whittell (27-2) led 13-10 at the end of a back-and-forth first quarter after Chaplin hit a 3-pointer with 1:35 left in the frame.
Word of Life (18-4) scored the first seven points of the second quarter to jump in front 17-13, and took a five-point lead on back-to-back baskets from guard Trent McCall late in the first half. Later in the frame, Chaplin tied the game 23-23 with a 3-pointer — but McCall answered with five straight points as part of a 12-point quarter.
“We trust our defense,” Warriors head coach Phil Bryant said. “Even though they were hitting shots early, we didn’t think that they would consistently hit them.”
The Warriors kept pace with McCall’s hot shooting and Word of Life in the second quarter, but it still looked like they would trail at the break. Then Whittell scored six points in the last 49 seconds — including a buzzer-beating jumper from senior Quinn Kixmiller — to take a 29-28 lead and momentum into the locker room.
“I got the ball and I knew we were running out of time,” Kixmiller said. “On the backboard there was one second left, and I figured I might as well go for it — I just let it go.”
Early in the third quarter, Whittell broke a tie with six straight points to take a 37-31 lead — sophomore Corey Huber capped the run with a transition layup with 4:00 left. The Warriors maintained that six-point advantage after a quarter dominated by defense.
“We were able to control the tempo more,” Bryant said. “Even though we weren’t getting a lot of breakaways on the press, we got them out of rhythm — then we collapsed down more to not let them get to the rim.”
Whittell led by at least three points for the entire fourth quarter while closing out the championship. With 5:00 to play, Chaplin hit a transition 3-pointer that put Whittell ahead 46-38 — a lead that shrunk to 48-45 before the Warriors took advantage of untimely foul by Word of Life.
On an inbounds play, Soaring Eagles forward Malik Moore grabbed Kixmiller under the basket and was whistled for an intentional foul with 1:11 left. Kixmiller made one of two free throws and junior Dismas Womack scored on the ensuing inbounds play to put Whittell ahead 51-45.
Following a Golden Eagles missed 3-pointer on the next possession, Warriors senior Colin Buchholz hit a jumper from the short corner that made it 53-45 with 34 seconds left. From there, the Warriors counted down the seconds to the state championship and a 25th straight victory.
“It’s the perfect way to end it,” Chaplin said. “Very few kids get the opportunity to even compete for a state title — let alone win one, then another. Winning two state titles in three years is special.
“We had all the right pieces to win a title, it was just about trusting it.”
Chaplin led all scorers with 22 points in the championship game — including all four of Whittell’s 3-pointers. Buchholz finished with 10 points and Kixmiller had seven while Womack and Huber added six apiece.
For Word of Life, McCall scored a team-high 15 points and Elijah Hoye added 13. The loss was the Soaring Eagles’ first of the season against a Div. IV opponent.
“They’re a team that is really athletic and really great, but you just can’t beat the fundamentals when you work hard with them,” Kixmiller said.
Whittell had three goals at the beginning of the season — win a league championship, regional title and state crown. The Warriors accomplished all three, and did so with late-season performances fitting of a championship team.
“That was championship basketball tonight,” Buchholz said. “We were off and on, but we never lost hope in ourselves, we trusted in each other, and we were able to get it done.”
In four seasons under Bryant, the Warriors have won two state championships, a regional title and three league crowns with a combined 90-22 record. Chaplin, Buchholz, Kixmiller and Andy Delgado have been a part of all four of those teams that have made up the most successful stretch on the hardwood in Whittell’s history.
“It’s absolutely great and I couldn’t be happier,” Bryant said. “We’re just going to keep rolling — we’re already planning on how to defend the title next year.”