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Depth, versatility guides Norse to win

LAYUP: Northfield’s Ariel Dale rises up for a layup in the Norse’s game against Western on Tuesday.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

Two years ago, Northfield’s girls’ basketball team closed out a win at home against Southwood with three players on the court. In Tuesday’s season-opener, it was the Norse’s depth that shined brightest.

The Class A No. 3 Norse rotated through 10 players, saw nine different Norse score and wore down visiting Western to earn a 67-36 victory.

“There’s definitely stuff to work on but we saw a lot of good things,” head coach Melissa Allen said. “Offensively, we passed the ball really well. Defensively, we were blocking out pretty well. Overall, I thought we did a good job but we definitely have things to improve on.”

Northfield opened and closed strong on the night, roaring out to a 13-point lead in the first quarter with a 13-2 run to close the opening frame. The better part of the next quarter-and-a-half saw Western chip away at the lead, cutting it down to 33-25 midway through the third.

From that point on, the Norse exploded, outscoring the Panthers 34-11 to close the game as Northfield held the guests to six points in the fourth quarter.

Eight different players scored for Northfield in that stretch, showcasing the depth of the Norse this season.

“It’s really helped,” Allen said. “Just as far as practices go, we can actually play 5-on-5 without us coaches playing. And now there’s competition in practice. They’re having to work harder. It makes a big difference having a lot more girls on the team now”

Northfield’s starting lineup of Kelcie Thomson, Kyra Kennedy, Ariel Dale, Ally Keaffaber and Kearston Stout helped the hosts get off to a hot start with 10 of the first 14 points.

Consecutive baskets from Sadie Harding closed the deficit to two points but Northfield responded with a big run to close the frame over the final 3:37, starting with baskets from Addi Baker, Kennedy and Thomson and capped off with back-to-back threes from Dale to close the quarter.

The offense on both sides came to a screeching halt in the second quarter with just nine total points scored between the two teams. Northfield outscored the guests 5-4 to take a 28-14 lead into the break, but the Panthers would slowly chip away at the lead in the second half.

Harding and Haley Scott played large roles in Western’s strong start to the third period as a free throw from Clara Braswell cut the lead to 33-25.

In a heartbeat, though, Northfield responded, scoring the next seven points to force a Western timeout with 2:08 left. Western would again cut the deficit to 11 points but Baker and Dale would each score in the final minute of the period to give Northfield a 15-point lead after three periods.

The most impressive stretch from Northfield came to open the fourth quarter. Starting with a pair of buckets in the interior from Baker and closing with a jumper from Maddie Clark, the Norse 19 of the first 20 points of the first quarter as the lead ballooned to 33 points.

Stretching to the third quarter, Northfield’s run was a 23-1 spurt that put the game away on the night.

For Allen, the ability to mix-and-match different lineups to find one that works helped the Norse put the game away in the fourth.

“We were just talking about if one of our girls is having an off night, we have two more on the bench that can come in and fill in that spot for them,” she said.

Dale led the Norse with 22 points while Kennedy had 13. Baker scored 10 points in the second half to finish with 12 points and nine rebounds while Thomson finished with six points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals.

Emma Hoover, Abbey Ross and Clark had two points each.

After the impressive effort in the season-opener, the Norse will have one of their toughest battles of the season with a trip to Oak Hill to take on the Class 2A No. 2 Eagles.

“A win is always a good start,” Allen said. “We haven’t talked about Oak Hill until just now in the locker room. We’re just trying to take it one game at a time. These next two days, we’ll work our butts off getting ready for them.”

Tip-off for the game is set for 7:30 p.m.