WARSAW – Norwell lost to Western 41-31 in the Class 3A semistate Saturday at Warsaw.
The No. 6 Panthers (22-3) will play No. 2 Evansville Mater Dei (26-1) in the 3A state title game at 6 p.m. next Saturday in Terre Haute.
No. 12 Norwell finished the season 21-5.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the team, and that’s what I told them,” Norwell coach Eric Thornton said. “I know they are disappointed, and they wanted to perform better out there.
“We really believed we could win this game. It really hurts when you put yourself out there. That says a lot about the kids because they weren’t just glad to be here. They didn’t want to take it for granted, and they didn’t. We just didn’t play real well today.”
The Knights were led by Hanna Smith’s nine points.
The offense wasn’t there for the Knights, who went 8 of 37 from the field and 4 of 18 on 3-pointers. The Panthers were 11 of 40.
“They have the perfect mix to fit into that 2-3 (zone),” Thornton said. “There is a reason they only give up 30-some points defensively. It’s very difficult to get good looks and difficult to get the foul line against them.”
Norwell also had 14 turnovers.
The Knights were playing in their first semistate in 37 years, while the Panthers lost to Concordia in the 2012 3A semistate game.
“On this stage, our kids were … the best way to say it is we weren’t ourselves,” Thornton said. “We were shaken at times, and we really played with a little bit of wide-eyes out there.”
The Knights’ last lead was 23-20 midway through the third. The Panthers went on a 9-0 run and never trailed again.
Western got 10 points from Carley O’Neal and Jessica Givens.
The Panthers sealed the game with a 16-8 advantage in the fourth quarter.
“Their poise was definitely better than ours in the fourth quarter,” Thornton said. “We went down two into the fourth quarter, and we thought our best basketball was still ahead of us. But it was hard to get into a rhythm out there.”