WATERVILLE – There were two storylines in Wednesday’s clash of top area teams.
Could Class C Waterville complete the season sweep over Class D power Poland? The other was whether Tornadoes junior Shiane Irwin could get 25 points to eclipse 1,000 for her career?
Irwin is just fine with the result, as her 21 points led the Tornadoes to 53-49 victory over Waterville in a hard-fought game between teams with huge postseason aspirations.
“I was more concerned about getting the win, but I was a bit nervous,” Irwin said. “I feel good about being able to get it at home in front of my family, fans and support group. It was a big win. We’ve been on a rough patch, and to be able to beat them was a great team win.”
With four points Friday night against New York Mills, Irwin will become the second player in program history to score 1,000, joining Nikki Salisbury, who has a school-record 1,446 points.
“I’ve been thinking about it because people are telling me all the time that I’m close,” Irwin said. “Until recently I really never realized how big a deal it was. But now after listening to people, I understand that it is a big accomplishment. It really shows everything that I’ve been working for is paying off.”
Irwin came out a bit tentative, scoring just two points in the first quarter, but her teammates were able allow her to ease into the flow. Whitney Butler hit a 3-pointer on the first possession of the game, Jordan Batson banked home a shot and Claire Lepper scored four early points as Poland built an 11-7 lead after the first quarter.
Waterville’s Alexis Decker scored four of her team-high 18 points early in the second as Waterville grabbed their only lead of the game at 13-11. Butler answered with a rainbow 3-pointer from the corner and Irwin got going, scoring seven quick points as the Tornadoes took a 21-15 lead midway through the quarter.
“She said she was nervous and I told her to calm down,” Butler said of Irwin. “After the first quarter, I think she was fine.”
The Tornadoes (10-6) remained hot to close out the quarter, outscoring Waterville 10-6 to take a 31-21 advantage into the break.
“When we make shots early, it scares the other team and gives us an advantage,” Butler said.
Butler quickly banged home another 3-pointer to start the third quarter, pushing Poland’s lead to 13 points. However, Waterville, which won 65-59 at Poland on Jan. 9, quickly answered with a 13-3 run that pulled them to within 37-34 with just over three minutes remaining in the third. Decker had four points during the run and sophomore point guard Sophie Wittenbeck scored five of her 11 points.
Poland answered Waterville’s charge with a 5-1 run to end the quarter behind buckets from Irwin and three points from senior Mikayla Blumenstock, who had a tremendous all-around effort, recording eight points, 12 rebounds, four assists and four steals.
In the fourth, Waterville (13-3) pulled within four points on a putback by Jenna Pugliese-McNamara, then again on a driving bucket by Decker with 2:22 remaining. Irwin made four key foul shots in the last 90 seconds to give the Tornadoes a 52-46 edge, but Waterville made one last charge as Aliah Decker hit a 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining to make it a one-possession game. The Indians then fouled Batson with 4.2 seconds remaining, and the junior iced the game by making the first of two from the line.
“We dug a hole early,” Decker said. “If we would’ve started off better, like we did in Poland, I think it would’ve helped. We just got down and it was tough to come back. We are definitely hoping to go far in sectionals and a game like this should help us go farther.”
Waterville head coach Larry Stockwell, who is in his 33rd season and has recorded 433 career wins, liked the fight his team showed in the second half.
“We forgot what won us the game out there,” Stockwell said. “We got beat inside early. In the second half, we played man defense and we picked it up and played much better. We also figured out how to attack them, but we just didn’t make shots. Some nights that’s the way it goes.”
For Poland head coach Jason Potempa, getting off to a hot start was big, especially against a top program like Waterville.
“We had a pretty good game plan,” Potempa said. “I think it was the first time we had the lead after the first quarter in a couple games. Our defense hasn’t been great lately and we didn’t want to play full-court pressure. But, instead we tried more of a stagger zone and it allowed us to jump into passing lanes and gave them some trouble.”
He also liked the way Irwin handled her unique situation.
“I think she did okay,” Potempa said. “I didn’t see her play any differently. She took shots when she was open. I don’t think she pressed too much. In a way, I’m happy she didn’t get it tonight. It’ll be good for her to get it at home.”
Poland 53, Waterville 49
Poland 11 20 11 11—53
Waterville 7 14 14 14—49
Poland (10-6): Shiane Irwin 6-7 21; Whitney Butler 6-0 15; Mikayla Blumenstock 3-2 8; Claire Lepper 2-0 4; Jordan Batson 1-1 3; Nicole Ryan 1-0 2. Totals: 19-10-53. 3-Pointers: 5 (Butler 3, Irwin 2).
Waterville (13-3): Alexis Decker 7-4 18; Sophie Wittenbeck 4-0 11; Jenna Pugliese-McNamara 2-1 5; Molly Williams 1-2 4; Kaelee Cleary 2-0 4; Emilie Phillips 2-0 4; Aliah Decker 1-0 3. Totals: 19-7-49. 3-Pointers: 4 (Wittenbeck 3, Decker).