The Indians (10-6, 5-3 CL) ended the drought last night by taking a 75-69 double-overtime victory over Central Catholic (9-7, 4-4) at the Sullivan Center.
The win locks up the fourth and final league playoff spot, earning Waite a semifinal matchup against the CL's first-place team.
Terron Hereford led the Indians with 25 points, while teammate Jamell Baldwin added 12 points and eight rebounds.
Waite's last CL postseason game was a 42-37 loss to Scott in the 1974 league championship game, and the Tribe has not made the semifinals since the CL went to a four-team playoff format in 1991.
The No. 1 team won't be determined until after next Thursday's battle between fourth-ranked Libbey (16-1, 8-0) and seventh-ranked St. John's Jesuit (15-2, 7-1) at Savage Hall. If Libbey wins, the Cowboys take first. If St. John's wins and Scott (12-2, 7-1) beats Woodward next Friday, the resulting three-way tie for first will be broken by a random drawing.
Patience against Waite's defense led to hot early shooting by the Irish, who took a 32-17 lead at halftime. The Irish were 13 of 22 in the opening half compared to six of 15 for a then struggling Waite.
But some halftime adjustments by the Indians - strategically and mentally - plus a suddenly-found touch at the foul line proved to be the difference.
Waite switched from zone to a tight man-to-man defense to start the third quarter and chipped away at Central's lead. Holding the Irish to just two third-quarter field goals, the Tribe used a 16-6 quarter to pull within 38-33 entering the fourth.
“At halftime we talked about how hard we worked to get here,” Waite coach Dave Pitsenbarger said. “I challenged the guys to play 'em tough the rest of the way, and told them we can't worry about the score. Just try to cut the lead in half and not try to get it all back at once.”
“We had to pick up the intensity and the guys came out determined. They didn't want to let it (playoff chance) slip away. They weren't going to pack it in. We're trying to beat that, `Oh no, here we go, we're going to lose again,' attitude. This means the world to us.”
The key, offensively, was getting the ball inside to leading scorer Hereford (17.9 average), who got eight of his points in the third quarter, all from down low.
“We had the momentum going into the fourth,” Hereford said, “and everything just fell into place after that. We started penetrating and hitting open shots. Defense was the key. We went man on them and that helped.
“You start getting doubts, but I never gave up. We hung tough and came out with the win.”
Central grew tentative offensively, then failed at the foul line where Waite prospered. The Irish missed 11 of 24 free throws after halftime while Waite made 21 of 25, including 20 in a row at one point.
“We wanted this so bad,” Jamell Baldwin said. “In the second half we came together. If you play together as a team, anything's possible.”
The Indians - who had not led since a Hereford layup put them up 10-9 with 1:37 left in the first quarter - got the deficit to 46-43 on a Tarell Baldwin three-point play with 3:03 left in regulation, then tied it 48-48 with 1:41 to go on Paul Williams's 3-pointer.
Two Dwaine Thames's free throws put Waite ahead 52-49 with 35 seconds left in regulation, but Central's John Thomas (26 points) nailed a clutch 3-pointer nine seconds later to force overtime. A Thomas free throw with 29.2 seconds left in the first overtime forced a second extra period with the teams tied 59-59.
That's when Hereford took over, scoring nine of Waite's 16 points in the second overtime.
“It came down to free throws at the end,” Central coach Mike Padgett said. “We didn't make them and they did. We didn't change a thing (after halftime). We wanted to keep doing the things we were doing, but we didn't score.”
Waite was 23 of 49 from the field, 25 of 34 from the line, and committed 19 turnovers to Central's 22. Central was 24 of 55 from the field, 15 of 26 from the line, and each team grabbed 33 rebounds.
Andy Mix and Norman Mars added 15 and 10 points, respectively, for the Irish.