TERRE HAUTE — The Washington Hatchets dropped their first game of the 2005-06 season at Terre Haute North on Saturday.

But what may be more important than the first loss suffered by the Hatchets since the 2004 Hall of Fame Classic at New Castle is what coach Gene Miiller’s young team learned in falling 58-53 to the Patriots.

Washington found out it can play with a Class 4A school from one of the state’s biggest large school conferences, the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference. And the Hatchets learned that they can do so while missing one of their best players.

In fact, after a rough start, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say the Class 3A No. 4 Hatchets (2-1) outplayed the Patriots (3-2), who were coming off a 63-55 overtime loss at Ben Davis the previous night. Washington trailed 22-9 after one quarter, but rebounded to outscore North 44-36 the rest of the way.

“I thought we competed hard. Early in the game, they kind of took us out of it with their defense, their pressure, and the physicalness of their play. I think our kids weren’t used to it,” said Miiller, who also noted that North was 9-11 from the field in the first quarter before finishing the contest shooting 44 percent (22-50) from the floor.

“But after that, our kids really came out and competed. Defensively, we buckled down and played good D, and we battled them on the boards and for loose balls,” said Miiller. “Offensively, we did a better job of handling the basketball against their pressure.”

Washington played the contest without junior forward Bryan Bouchie and his 19.5 ppg and 9.5 rpg averages. But with Bouchie ill with the flu, junior Tanner Wildridge took advantage of the opportunity in his first varsity start and played very well.

Wildridge scored 12 points and pulled down eight rebounds against a physical Patriot squad. Sophomore center Tyler Zeller registered his second straight double double with 15 points and 10 boards, part of a 24-21 WHS advantage on the boards.

“I thought our big kids, Zeller and Tanner had a great game. He (Wildridge) really battled inside,” said Miiller. “It was good to see him come in here and do the things he’s capable of doing.”

Kevin Decker topped WHS with 15 points, including a trio of 3-pointers. Washington took its first lead of the game at 25-24 on a Decker basket following a steal by Kyle Price with 1:22 to play in the first half. But North responded with a 6-0 run to take a 30-25 lead into the locker room.

Washington fell behind by as many as 10 points in the third period, but a Wildridge rebound basket early in the fourth quarter capped a WHS 12-0 run to give WHS a 47-45 lead with 7:07 to play.

But North’s Scott Connor took over from there. The senior guard, who was scoreless to that point in the game, hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to give North a 48-47 lead on the Patriots’ next possession. That was the first of three triples for Connor in the final period which, along with a pair of free throws each from Matt Myers and Nate Blank in the final minute of play, collectively sealed the Hatchets’ fate.

“We knew he could shoot the basketball. In fact, I thought he was going to start tonight,” Miiller said of Connor. “We knew he could shoot, and he got away from us a little bit late in the fourth quarter, and it really hurt us.”

Blank topped North with 12 points, followed by Shawn Stevens with 10. Price added four assists off the WHS bench, while Hatchet reserve guard Jon Sturgeon dished out a pair of assists and committed just two turnovers in nearly 20 minutes of play.

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