DECATUR – Norwell players, fans and coaches were still mingling on the Bellmont court for a while after Saturday’s Class 3A regional championship.
But it wasn’t nearly as long as it took Norwell to win another regional crown.
The Knights beat Muncie Central 61-52 on Saturday for their first regional championship since 1977.
Norwell coach Eric Thornton, 44, is in his 17th season with the program and has some perspective on the long-awaited regional championship.
It means a lot to us because it came maybe when it wasn’t expected, Thornton said.
That makes it pretty sweet. We have had a lot good teams at Norwell that have come up short.
Norwell (21-4), ranked No. 12 in 3A , plays No. 4 Western (21-3) at either Warsaw or Crown Point next Saturday in the northern 3A semistate.
Norwell has won 10 sectional titles, but only regional titles in 1976 and 1977. The Knights have won four straight sectionals.
It’s been 37 years since our last regional title, Norwell senior Kelsey Beer said. The experience as a senior has just been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Muncie Central (18-7) was looking for its first-ever regional title after upsetting No. 3 Garrett (23-1) 48-35 in the regional semifinals Saturday morning.
The Bearcats had not let an opponent score more than 39 points in their last four games before the regional finals, while the Knights were coming off an emotional last-second win over NorthWood in the semifinals.
We just had a lot of momentum after that, Beer said of the semifinal win.
Muncie Central wasn’t ready for us, and we were ready to come out and play and pounce on them. That’s what we did ultimately.
Kaycee Strunk led Norwell with 20 points, while Mackenzie Sawyer had 17 and Stephanie Conrad 14.
We just came out and did what we know how, and that’s play basketball, Strunk said. It’s just awesome.
It was absolutely a goal for us. Everything clicked has for us, especially our pressure defense.
Norwell trailed 14-10 early in the second before going on a 16-2 run to take a 26-19 halftime lead.
The Bearcats trimmed the margin to 39-36 in the third and to 44-39 in the fourth, but could not get any production from anyone other than Jayla Scaife (32 points).
Muncie Central led 11-7 after the first.
Our kids just hang in there, Thornton said. There’s a different way that (the Bearcats) make you play that we didn’t adjust to it in until the second quarter. We settled for a lot of things in the first quarter because we were playing in a hurry.
In the semifinals, Laken Chaney’s free throw with no time remaining lifted Norwell past NorthWood 55-54.
With the scored tied at 54, Chaney was fouled on a disputed call just as time expired.
Chaney was awarded two free throws in the double-bonus situation, but she needed only the one.
To be honest, I wanted the ball, Chaney said. Being a senior, it could be my last play.
Chaney finished with 21 points, while Conrad added 10.