RENSSELAER | Rensselaer knew if it was going to advance to its first sectional championship in six seasons it was going to have to win the rebounding battle against Winamac to get there.
After getting out-rebounded 15-9 in the first half, Rensselaer hung tough in the second half and finished in a 31-29 deficit.
But Rensselaer’s shooting touch left it, and Winamac eliminated the hosts 47-40Friday night in Joe Burvan Gymnasium.
Winamac advances to today’s championship to face North Judson, which knocked out North Newton 65-56 in the opener.
“I seriously thought we played at a level good enough to win this game,” Rensselaer coach Kevin Sims said. “When you’re 1-for-16 from 3-point range and 13-for-26 from the free-throw line, you’re in trouble. That was our main problem.”
The Bombers (13-9) fell behind 12-6 after one quarter and still trailed 22-14 at the half.
“Every missed shot they had in the first half, they got a follow-up rebound,” Sims said of the Warriors.
Sparked by the play of Austin Fleming and reserve Isaiah Valencia, the Bombers kept it close in the second half. Fleming scored nine of his 10 points after the break, while Valancia came off the bench to score seven points and grab five rebounds.
Rensselaer got within 36-31 early in the fourth but just couldn’t knock down shots either from the field or at the line.
“When we win, we shoot 70 percent from the free-throw line,” Sims said. “(Friday) we struggled.”
Joey Claussen led the Bombers with 12 points.
Parker Fox and Colin McGee each tallied nine points for the Warriors (13-8)
In the opener, North Newton (2-19) never could get over the hump against North Judson. North Newton trailed 16-14 at the first stop and battled against a sharp-shooting opponent.
Jacob Shabi hit two 3-pointers in the final 1:05 of the second quarter to give Judson a 32-26 lead at the half. Shabi scored 20 of his game-high 32 points in the first half.
Bryce Carden, who led the Spartans with 14 points hit two buckets to get within 39-34 early in the third quarter.
The Bluejays (13-8) maintained a 51-45 lead after three quarters.
The Spartans pulled to 51-47 early in the fourth on a Brandon Propes bucket, but they would get no closer the rest of the way.
“Like I told the kids in the (locker room), there were games when we lost because we different give the effort,” North Newton coach Tim Feddeler said. “That wasn’t the case (Friday). The kids gave it everything they’ve got. They left it all out on the floor.”
The Spartans believed they could pull the upset and get to the championship.
“We gave a good effort (Friday),” Carden said.