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Norse win first basketball sectional crown in 39 years

TITLE: Northfield’s girls’ basketball team poses with the sectional title trophy after Saturday’s win over Southwood in the final.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

For eight minutes on Saturday, the Southwood girls’ basketball team instilled flashes of last season’s upset in the sectional final in the heads of Northfield. Heavy underdogs entering the contest, the Knights not only hung with the Norse but led for much of the first period.

The Norse, and particularly Ariel Dale, ensured this current campaign did not end like the last.

Northfield quickly reverted back to form with Dale scoring 11 of her game-high 26 points in the second period as Northfield snapped a 39-year sectional title drought at home with a 58-31 win over the Knights.

“I’m just excited for the girls,” Northfield head coach Melissa Allen said. “I’m proud of them and of how hard they worked. At the beginning of the season, we go over what our goals are. So far, we’ve been able to mark those off the list. We’ll just keep moving off and hopefully keep marking them off the list as we go.”

Dale capped off a stellar three consecutive nights of sectional play with her third-straight 20-point effort and a season-high 26 points. The senior pulled Northfield back within a point to close the first, then gave the hosts a permanent lead after a Thomson free throw with a three-pointer to move ahead 12-9.

Thomson would knock down her own three before a three-point play from Dale got the Knights in rhythm. After an Alissa Pershing layup made it 18-13, Northfield scored eight unanswered from Emma Hoover, Thomson, Abbey Ross and Addi Baker to double up the Knights 26-13.

Sierra Stout stopped the run with a layup, but Dale closed the half with another three-pointer and a jumper for 11 second-quarter points, sending the Norse into the locker room up 31-15.

“We were pretty confident,” Dale said of the mindset of the team coming in. “They put up a good fight the first quarter. They kind of rattled us a little bit but we came back stronger and started hitting our shots.

“I felt like I needed to step up for my team. I know they need me and they count on me so I really I knew I needed to step up.”

Dale’s big second quarter only was necessary after a shocking opening eight minutes of the game. In the only previous meeting this season between the two sides, Northfield earned a 77-19 win. But the Knights entered the night undeterred and swung first, taking an early 3-2 lead on a Stout three-pointer.

Baker gave Northfield the lead back with a layup but Southwood scored the next six points, two from Pershing free throws and four from Morgan Farr to move ahead 9-4. The Norse closed the gap to one point after Hoover and Kennedy each split a pair of free throws and Dale converted before the first quarter buzzer.

“Not to worry about it,” Allen said of her message to the team after the first. “I think we came out nervous and a little slow. We knew we just had to settle down and play our game and they came out in the second quarter and did that.”

For West, after coming into the night wanting to simply hang tight with the Norse through the opening four minutes of the game, seeing his side lead after eight minutes was a dream start.

“We came out to compete tonight,” West said. “I think we threw a little bit of a curveball at them in kind of a little bit of a weird man (defense) and we executed pretty well. For us to not play any man the whole year, that’s kind of a big ask to go to a different defense against the best team we play all year but the girls bought in. They were ready to compete and came out ready to go and that was going to be the biggest key was to come out and give our best.

“I really felt like that was our best. We played with them the entire game. We had a few turnovers that hurt us and they know how to run out, they know how to get steals. And they shot pretty darn well. But I really felt like it boiled down to, we got quite a few decent looks and we just really could not make anything tonight. We made the opening three and did not make another one. For us to compete, just to hang with the firepower they have, this is a game we probably need to make four, if not five or six (threes).”

The threes dried up as did the offense as a whole for the Knights after the first quarter. Dale continued her hot stretch in the third period, scoring five of the first seven points for Northfield as the lead grew to 38-19 after a three-pointer from the Taylor University commit.

A three-point play from Baker along with a free throw from Kennedy and a jumper from Hoover started a run that was capped off with a three-pointer from Dale, her fourth and final of the night, giving the hosts a 47-21 lead.

Dale scored 20 of her 26 points in the second and third periods as Northfield outscored the Knights 40-16 in that span.

The fourth quarter was little more than a formality as Dale capped off her night with four more points while Baker and Ally Keaffaber added to the total.

“It feels great,” Dale said of winning the title. “Man, I’m so excited. It feels amazing. (It’s been) 40 years since we won it. And now that we’ve won it, we’re ready to keep rolling and keep going.”

Baker followed Dale in scoring with nine while Thomson had eight and Keaffaber and Kennedy had four apiece.

While the Norse celebrated the win, West and the Knights walked out on the night with their heads held high after a valiant effort and a drastic improvement on the first meeting.

“But really, I’m just so proud of the girls to come out, when you lose by 60…and this senior class has never beat them, for them to believe in themselves and come out and compete and give their best is all you can ask,” West said. “I’m over the moon thrilled with our effort, with how we played. The best way to go out with a loss, I guess.

“Just a huge congrats to these Northfield girls. They’ve worked really hard and are a really good team. I wish them luck next week.”

Stout had nine, Pershing finished with eight and Farr had six to lead Southwood.

Northfield (23-2) extends its win streak to 18 games and will advance to Saturday’s regional at Tipton. The Norse will meet the winner of the Southern Wells sectional final match-up between Cowan and Daleville on Monday in the second regional game.