ALBION – There was, rightfully, a lot of hype heading into this season for the Northeast Corner Conference. Four to six possible title contenders. As many of the area’s top players as any other conference. Division 1 capabilities and a deep run of talent.
We all took our turn at NECC champion predictions. Churubusco was the upstart pick. Prairie Heights was a confident choice. Central Noble was the heir apparent pick. Then sat Westview, not out of anyone’s range of vision but not the popular pick to repeat either.
Saturday night at Central Noble, Westview and their star player Charlie Yoder made a very clear and resounding statement: the NECC still belongs to them until it officially doesn’t anymore. The Warriors topped Central Noble 68-57 in the conference showdown that was Central Noble’s first NECC loss this season; Westview has previously lost to Churubusco.
Yoder scored 33 points, had seven rebounds, four assists and did – as he can – essentially whatever he wanted up and down the court. He did so with a big grin gleaming across his face and he knew the weight of going into Albion and beating Central Noble, handily in some ways. This coming two days off a disappointed shooting performance for all of the Warriors in a loss to NorthWood.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit and we knew we had to win this game to be in the NECC conference conversation so its definitely at big one,” Yoder said. “And I think it is a statement win as well.”
While Central Noble’s star sophomore Connor Essegian opened the game with a bucket, Westview was able to separate themselves from the get go and it was hard for the Cougars to ever form a heavy handed rally to get back into the game. After Essegian’s opening basket, Westview scored 16 straight culminating with a Yoder three pointer with under 90 seconds left in the first. Among that run included an emphatic Yoder block on Essegian with around three minutes to play that really riled up the Warrior crowd in attendance.
Myles Smith buried a three pointer with 1:07 left in the first to end the Westview scoring run. That was a trend throughout the game with Smith’s shooting being the only thing keeping Central Noble afloat at times. The Cougars often looked flat and without energy while Westview fed off their momentum, using strong court vision and ball rotation to have a solid offensive balance despite Yoder’s big night playing into it.
“We knew coming in that we were going to need to play with a lot of energy because we knew they were,” Yoder said. “We came out with a lot of energy; credit to our guys. We were ready to play and we didn’t let Thursday’s loss effect us at all.”
Essegian and Ryan Schroeder helped gain some traction in the second quarter, forcing turnovers and getting out on the break but Westview continued to findpositinging down low, posting on the baseline. The Warriors scored 36 of their 68 points in the pair versus just 16 for Central Noble.
In the second half, Westview opened up with a long and patient 50 second possession before Yoder sprung free of Central Noble’s Sawyer Yoder to bury a three pointer. While Charlie Yoder seemed to have the night on lock with his game, he played incredibly unselfish basketball and Westview thrived. Seven different Warriors contributed to the scoring with Blake Egli hitting four of five from deep for 16 points, including beating the first quarter buzzer. Drew Litwiller chipped in seven points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Ben Burkett, Caleb Cory, Mason Yoder, Lyndon Miller and Brady Yoder all played steady hands in the Westview win.
Smith was almost all of the Central Noble offense in the third quarter as he was able to knock down corner triples when the Cougars managed a quick ball rotation, with a Sawyer Yoder slam mixed in. But Smith’s three pointers were often counteracted by Charlie Yoder’s feisty play at the rim on the other end, often created by a long and mission focused Westview defense. With 4:56 left in the third, Yoder stripped the ball clean from Essegian in an isolation situation, further establishing that he and Westview remain the standard-bearer for the NECC for now.
“It was important,” Yoder said of the defensive pressure on Essegian all game. “We did a really good job as a team. That is the definition of team defense because I think we had four people on him at different times, just going to switch it up and give him different looks and that was just awesome, the effort our guys put in defending him.”
The crowd stayed riled up in the fourth where Schroeder and Egli once exchanged triples, but it was never much closer than eight points. Yet again, and I’m sounding like a broken record here, but Charlie Yoder was just too much when he got the ball below the block; nearly impossible to stop all night long. And that is what he did late to cap off a big night for the Warriors.
Smith ended up leading Central Noble with 19 points, hitting five three pointers.
But this night was all about Yoder, whether he wanted the focus on him or not, at Westview. Yoder moved into third all time in program scoring with his season high in scoring. He is also now fifth in LaGrange County scoring history off a stable and resilient performance. And it was a performance worth noting, over and over. But those scoring marks remain far from Yoder’s mind.
“I don’t really think of it,” Yoder said matter of factly after the game. “I’m just trying to win basketball games and whatever comes with that comes with it.”
And that mindset is why Yoder remains the conference’s best player and why, even with a loss in the NECC, it is hard to even come close to writing the Warriors off any time soon. Consider the Westview statement understood.
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