AKRON — The NorthWood girls basketball team needed a pick-me-up. The Panthers lost Riley Hershberger to injury at the end of December and were riding a four-game losing streak into Tuesday’s matchup with No. 7 Tippecanoe Valley. It was not the ideal matchup given the situation for NorthWood, or so one would think. The Panthers shocked the Vikings 50-41 on their home floor to end their losing streak and prove that the sectional 21 field may be more open than previously believed.
“We had a long talk about several things yesterday, our starts were one of those things,” began NorthWood head coach Adam Yoder. “It’s like we’re feast or famine. We come out like gangbusters or we come like a team that hasn’t won a game all year. We talked about just finding something in the middle. Let’s not have to dig ourselves out of a hole or protect a huge lead, which would’ve been nice, obviously. Let’s just be solid. Let’s be solid and see what happens and that was cool to see tonight.”
The Panthers found themselves trailing 11-8 after one quarter but were playing toe-to-toe with the two-time defending sectional champion Vikings. In the second the teams exchanged baskets for much of the frame before a Mackenzie Bergman three put the Panthers on top 16-15 for the first time since a 3-2 lead in the first. NorthWood would end the quarter on a 7-2 run and hold a 20-17 lead at halftime.
Out of the break the Panthers got, perhaps, their biggest break of the night. With the score still idle at 20-17, Valley’s Anne Secrest picked up her third foul. Secrest would be benched for the remainder of the quarter. Savannah Feenstra got the first bucket of the second half shortly after Secrest’s departure and the Panthers would build up a lead as big as 12 points, 32-20, over the next few minutes. Valley worked the deficit back to seven but a buzzer-beating two from Kira Robinson put the visitors up 34-25 going into the fourth.
The Vikings opened up the fourth on an 8-2 run fueled by big threes from Emily Peterson and Meredith Brouyette. While Secrest made an impact upon being back in the game, she found herself back on the bench for good at the 2:17 mark. Secrest committed a shooting foul on Robinson to pick up her fifth which led to a noticeable celebration from the NorthWood bench. Robinson hit both free throws to put the Panthers up 42-35. Secrest ended her night with just five points.
“I think a lot of it was foul trouble,” Yoder admitted when asked about the defensive game plan on holding Secrest to five points. “I think our post did a good job of knowing the places that they like to move her and getting to those places. I thought, for the most part, we did a good job on the boards, too. They’re hard to rebound against, they’re going to get rebounds. But we had a lot of young kids in their battling for boards that haven’t gotten to play a lot this year. That was fun to see. I think it was probably half and half, foul trouble and partly our kid’s defense.”
Valley tried to mount a late comeback, but the shots simply weren’t falling. Taitlyn Trenshaw held her own at the line for the Panthers in the final frame, hitting five down the stretch. The team was just 14-27, but that was a welcome line after only getting seven attempts in Saturday’s loss at Wawasee.
“Well I don’t think we shot the ball well all night,” said Valley head coach Chris Kindig. “I think we shot 27-percent from the field and for the season I think we’re averaging over 50-percent. Anne got into foul trouble, we had to sit her for quite a few minutes. I thought, really, we were fortunate to only be down by three at the half with the way we played.
“We were hoping to come out in that third quarter and play a little bit better. But it seemed liked we couldn’t get the right bounce of the ball. It seemed like every deflection went their way, every loose ball went their way, every call went their way. Sometimes that happens. If you play good enough defense, you can overcome that but we just didn’t. I thought our effort was there, it was just one of those nights.”
Valley was led by a career-high offensive outing from Sophie Bussard who tallied 16 points. Peterson was the team’s second-leading scorer with 11. NorthWood was led by Feenstra’s 14 points while Trenshaw added another 13.
Kindig later mentioned that his team’s biggest focus this week is on its game Saturday as it will look to keep itsThree Rivers Conference streak alive when hosting rival Rochester. The Vikings are now 14-4 overall and 4-0 in the TRC. NorthWood (13-6) will host Northridge Saturday evening. The Raiders enter with a perfect conference record and a 20-1 overall mark. The Panthers are 3-1 in NLC play.
NorthWood won the JV contest 37-24. Kate Rulli led the visitors with 11 points. Valley was led by Sarah Tucker and Jillian Walls, who had eight points each.