LAPORTE – The Norwell Knights never led during the 61-40 loss to South Bend Washington at the LaPorte semistate on Saturday.
The Knights trailed the Panthers 31-10 at halftime, and no amount of moral victories – such as the fact that Norwell played Washington even over the final two quarters – could ease the pain of the falling just one game short of the state finals.
Neither could the moment with under two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, when Norwell coach Eric Thornton pulled his four seniors as the fans gave them a standing ovation.
Senior Maiah Shelton described that moment as “touching” and “really sweet,” but a few minutes later, when the team left court Shelton said they walked into a silent locker room.
“It was really quiet at first, we're all kind of reminiscing about what this season held for us. For the seniors especially, what the four years have held,” Shelton said. “But then you start to unlace your shoes, and then the emotions flow in. Coach sits down and he thanks us. It's a sweet and memorable moment, but its hard to be a part of.”
Washington came into the game averaging 14.2 steals per contest, and Thornton had said that taking care of the ball was key of the Knights (23-6) were going to be able to stick with Washington (22-5).
Instead, Norwell fell victim to the same aggressive, athletic Panthers defense as every other playoff opponent, and the Knights committed six turnovers in the first quarter alone (they had 12 by halftime).
Washington sophomore RaShunda Jones scored 11 points in the first quarter to pace the Panthers to a 18-6 lead. Norwell's offense struggled just as much in the second quarter, and at halftime Shelton had scored eight of the Knights' 10 points. As a team, Norwell shot just over 20% in the first half, and the Knights did not get sent to the free throw line once.
“The turnovers combined with our lack of scoring – (Washington) presents a lot of problems, and they were the reason for much of that,” Thornton said.
Jones finished with a game-high 18 points. Mila Reynolds scored 17, 14 of which came in the second half, and Amiyah scored 10. Shelton finished with 16 points in her final game for the Knights.
“It's hard to think about all the things these girls have accomplished, just because it hurts so much right now,” Thornton said. “I really wanted it for this group. They played a great second half, played them dead even. But ultimately our lack of shot-making and live turnovers, it became too much in the end.