GAS CITY — For all of the accolades Norwell brought into the Mississinewa sectional — a share of the NE8 title, the No. 4 ranking in Class 3A, 54 wins since the start of the 2017-2018 season — this current crop of Knights have never gotten to enjoy postseason success.
Only senior Breann Barger had won a single sectional game, back when she was a freshman.
And these Knights' chances of celebrating a sectional win seemed more remote than ever after the first quarter of their postseason opener against Bishop Luers on Tuesday. Bishop Luers went on an 11-0 run to end the quarter, with senior Lydia Reimbold punctuating the quarter with a 3-pointer from 10 feet outside the arc to give her team a 19-point lead.
But just when Bishop Luers (15-8, 6-3 SAC) seemed unstoppable, Norwell got the stop. They chipped away at the Luers lead for the next two quarters, finally taking the lead seconds before the end of the third quarter, and held on to win 60-53.
"I'm so proud of them, just to hang in there after being down 19," Norwell coach Eric Thornton said. "What a storm that was from Luers in the beginning. They were incredible in the beginning, and our kids just held in there. We got better offensively throughout the game. Defensively, we caused some havoc. I just can't say enough about our kids not quitting tonight."
The Norwell defense, which hadn't been able to stop anything Bishop Luers wanted to do in the first quarter, started tripping up the SAC's Knights. They started to throw away passes and get called for traveling, and grew frustrated as multiple players found themselves in foul trouble.
"I think we just kept playing, I don't think it was any one thing," Thornton said, saying that his team didn't make any big adjustments on defense. "It's not unusual for a team that is considered the so called favorite — although we didn't consider ourselves the favorite — it's not uncommon for you to come out a little tight at the beginning. I thought Luers were the aggressors, and I think our kids just gained that throughout the game."
With many of Bishop Luers' starters forced to take to the bench in the second half, Norwell went on a 22-0 run that stretched into the fourth quarter to take a 48-39 lead.
Despite the deflating comeback, and the fact that both Delaney Bailey and Dori Javins had fouled out, Bishop Luers put up a fight at the bitter end, and a 3-pointer by Reimbold cut Norwell's lead to just three points in the final minute. But junior Kaylee Fuelling responded with a bucket (with four fouls, Reimbold didn't dare contest the shot), and Norwell hung on to win the sectional opener. Finally.
"We definitely had a lot of jitters coming into this game, trying not to repeat what we've done in the past," Maiah Shelton said. "We definitely pulled it out this year."
Barger scored 14 points for Norwell, and McKinzie Toliver had 11. Reimbold finished her high school career with a 16-point game, and Javins scored 12 in her final game as a Knight.