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Bazzoni, Fierstos lead Squires to upset of Norse

CELEBRATE: Manchester’s team races onto the court to celebrate after Saturday’s win over Northfield.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

If last season’s upset of Northfield’s girls’ basketball team by Manchester was shocking, Saturday’s contest was something much, much more.

Shorthanded, on the road and facing a better version of the Norse, ranked No. 4 in Class A, the Squires did more than hang with the Norse. Manchester led from the second quarter on and withstood a wild closing minute that included a potential game-winning three-pointer from Ariel Dale at the final buzzer to earn a 41-39 victory.

“I think this one means a little more to our girls only because it’s really, really hard to beat a good team twice,” Manchester head coach Jacob Everett said. “Tonight, it wasn’t really anything we put in special. We put in a few extra looks just because our team’s so different (from last year). Last year, Erika Kendall, I think she scored 10 points at the free throw line in this game last year and she pushed us through. So, we had to find someone else to step up and in that case, it certainly was (Kennedy) Fierstos and Eva (Bazzoni). Between the two of them, they were 6-for-8 from the three-point line.

“I think being able to run out on their shooters, make them put the ball on the floor, they had a lot of runners and that’s what we wanted them to take. The battle came to whether we were going to rebound out of it and there were about two stretches on defensive possessions where we gave up close to five offensive rebounds between the two of them. But, as far as a game plan and execution, I think the girls bought into taking away their three and, in doing so, we made them try to score in different ways.”

A pair of Ariel Dale free throws pulled Northfield within a point with 1:58 left at 39-38.

A series of turnovers over the next minute eventually ended in a three-pointer from Dale that missed. Kennedy Fierstos would head to the line where the senior converted a pair for a 41-38 lead with 46.6 seconds left.

Emma Hoover would miss a tying three-pointer but Northfield would be handed a lifeline as Bazonni missed the front-end of a one-and-one. Hoover would be fouled on a layup attempt and convert one of two with 13.8 seconds left, closing the gap to two points.

Northfield would be gifted a golden opportunity on the ensuing inbounds. A deflection on the in-bound pass would see Hoover collect the ball for an open three-pointer that missed long. Manchester would be fouled and head to the line for another one-and-one opportunity but Jirni Cripe would miss, allowing one last lifeline for the Norse with seven seconds left.

Dale would be given an open look from the right wing but her shot would miss long and the Squires would survive for the upset victory.

While the two minutes were chaotic for the visitors, the preceding 30 minutes largely featured the Squires in control despite many hurdles.

Coming out against a Norse press in the opening quarter, Manchester more than held its own. After seeing the Norse build their biggest lead of the day after five-straight points from Dale, Manchester reeled off a run to take a lead they would not relinquish.

Fierstos and Bazzoni each connected from range after a layup from Cripe, giving Manchester a 19-14 lead after one quarter. After a Hoover three-pointer cut the deficit to one possession, Fierstos and Bazzoni would combine for a 5-0 run, the latter of those baskets being Bazzoni’s third three-pointer of the half.

With the Squire guard Emma West out for the foreseeable future, the duo of Bazzoni and Fierstos, along with Kiera Hatfield, have stepped into the role of lead ballhandlers with largely positive results on Saturday.

“Having Emma out, it’s taken us a couple games to get into the groove that Eva and Kiera and Fierstos are all leaned on to take care of the ball,” Everett said. “And they’re coming into their own. I think they’re doing a really good job of keeping their head up when they’re attacking the pressure. They’re distributing really, really well. Kiera didn’t get on the scoreboard tonight but she certainly made great passes when we needed her to. She took care of the ball late, didn’t turn it over.

“It’s just learning but all those kids are learning and they’re growing into their role they’ve been thrust into. They’re doing everything that I ask and, as a coach, that’s all you hope for that your kids do what you ask and buy-in and that’s certainly what they’re doing right now.”

Northfield would close the lead down after a pair of baskets Kearston Stout and a three-point play opportunity from Dale, bringing Northfield back within one before a Bazzoni basket ahead of the halftime break gave the Squires a three-point advantage of the half, 30-27.

The Squires were forced to work through adversity in the half. Already down West, Manchester’s Kennidy Lauer drew two fouls in the first half, forcing the Squires to use their bench. Cripe stepped up with seven first-half points for Manchester while the Squires got big minutes off the bench from Mackenzie Day, Bailey Mooney and Morgan Parrett both in the first half and the game as a whole.

“Jirni had seven (points) and I think she had six or seven in the first half,” Everett said. “She came through really big then. Lauer, battling through the foul trouble early, did a great job of getting two in the first and not picking up her third until the second half and that was really huge for us. Our bench isn’t very deep but when Mackenzie Day went in there, she did a good job of not allowing the game to go down. It wasn’t like she went in and our momentum kind of took a dip. Bailey Mooney got in for a few minutes to plug a guard spot when we needed her to. Morgan Parrett played about eight minutes tonight again in a post position when Lauer wasn’t about to pick up her third.

“To have the girls right now who are primarily JV who have to step up because of our depth being what it is, I think that’s something to look forward to for us because those girls are getting better every single night.”

After a third-quarter with just seven total points saw the Northfield, Lauer made her impact on the night, scoring Manchester’s first six points of the quarter. Dale and Addi Baker answered each basket to set up the final minutes of play.

Bazzoni and Fierstos each had 13 points while Cripe had seven and Lauer six in the win. Bazzoni and Cripe had six rebounds apiece while Fierstos handed out four assists and three steals.

Dale had 14 points and Baker added eight in the loss for Northfield. Baker grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds while lead Northfield with three assists. Kelcie Thomson had five rebounds and five steals.

Manchester (4-4) hosts Huntington North tonight while Northfield (5-2) travels to Taylor this evening.