BURLINGTON — In 2019, the WACO basketball team upset New London in the district finals, and ended the high school careers of a decorated group of seniors, including coach’s son Mason Porter. On Tuesday night, little brother Blaise avenged the loss and then some, scoring 19 fourth-quarter points to lead the Tigers to a 60-52 district semifinal win over the top-seeded, second-ranked and previously undefeated Warriors.
“Once I put that jersey on, I inherited that loss from him,” Porter said. “I had to get this win. We had to get them back.”
Porter went an incredible 3-for-3 from the field, 3-for-3 from 3-point land and 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in an incredible third quarter run that helped turn a 40-35 WACO lead into a stunning New London victory.
“I don’t think people realize how much work that dude puts in,” said father and head coach Bryant Porter. “I expect this out of him. When he comes up short, I don’t hold it against him, because I know he works his butt off. This is nothing new to him.”
New London started the game on a 10-0 run, but WACO battled back to cut the lead to 14-9 after one period. The game was tied 30-30 at halftime, thanks in part to a 14-point first half from WACO’s senior transfer, Pietro Vannini.
The Warriors controlled the third quarter and took a five-point lead into the final period, and it looked like the favorites would escape, but the Tigers scored an incredible 25 points in the last eight minutes.
Porter finished with 27 points and Kade Benjamin had 13, a total of 40 points from New London’s freshman duo.
“They play a lot of basketball all year-round. I expect this out of those dudes,” Coach Porter said. “As many hours we drive on the highway to get these teams to these tournaments in North Carolina, Texas. They better play like this!”
Grant Swanson had 11 points. Markel Luckett scored four. Demontae Watkins had three, and Devon Swanson finished with two.
WACO was led by a 21-point performance by Vannini. Gabe Reichenbach had 10. Braden Hammond scored nine. Nik Coble had eight, and Drew Kissell finished with two. Every WACO point was made by a member of the senior class that put WACO on the Class 1A basketball map with 22-straight wins to start the season.
“I can’t tell you how much they’ve sacrificed these last four years to get to where they are as young men,” WACO coach Paul Kissell said. “They’re an excellent group to work with, and I think you’ve seen that throughout the season with the record we had.”
New London will now move on to the district finals against Pekin. For WACO, a time to reflect on a once-in-a-life-time season that couldn’t produce the Hollywood ending it seemed destined for, but captured the attention of the entire WACO community.
“They’re not only involved in basketball,” Coach Kissell said. “You see them on the football field. You see them at Sunday school classes, the leaders at Vacation Bible School. These kids are deeply rooted in this community. They’ve been with us all four years. Even when it was lean, they were there.”