MIDDLEBURY – There’s no denying that Northridge has the two best girls basketball players in the Northern Lakes Conference in Brooke McKinley and Morgan Litwiller.
There was also no denying the deep and talented Raiders yet another NLC victory Saturday night.
Host Northridge stretched its conference winning streak to 20 in a row by downing NorthWood 53-37 in a matchup of league unbeatens.
Junior forward Litwiller tossed in 26 points and senior guard McKinley added 10 as the Class 4-A No. 13 Raiders improved to 19-3 overall and moved to 5-0 in NLC play.
Northridge, which advanced to the semistate a year ago in posting a 20-2 mark, will look to complete its third straight undefeated season in the NLC with league games versus Elkhart Memorial and Plymouth to conclude the regular season.
Sophomore Maddy Payne paced NorthWood with nine points. The Panthers drop to 13-6 overall and go to 4-1 in the NLC.
The Raiders, despite missing a pair of injured players, simply put the hurt on the Panthers. The hosts used a ball-hawking, physical defense to set the tone early.
Northridge used a 7-0 run in the first period, sparked by Litwiller, to take a 13-8 lead. Litwiller scored nine points in the opening frame for the Raiders.
The Raiders, who edged NorthWood 36-35 last season, took control of the contest in the second quarter. Litwiller scored six points and McKinley canned five as the hosts outscored NorthWood 18-7 in the period to take a commanding 31-15 halftime lead.
NorthWood had 15 turnovers in the opening half.
“They are just a tough team to play against,” noted NorthWood coach Adam Yoder of the Raiders. “I thought that we battled the best we could tonight.
“They did a good job pushing our kids aways from the basket and had great ball pressure, but that is nothing new. My frustration was us not finishing shots and losing the ball around the basket. But it was a physical game and we are a young team inside with sophomores in there.”
The Raiders continued to roll in the final half as they led by as many as 25 points before settling for the 16-point final.
Northridge was missing junior Ashley Beckler, who hurt her ankle in practice Friday. The Raiders are also without junior Izzy Love, who is done for the season with an injury. Both players have been starters for the Raiders.
“I said at the beginning of the year that this was the deepest team I’ve had here and we had to tap into that tonight,” said Northridge coach Doug Springer, now in his 11th season in charge of the Raiders. “I’m really proud of how the kids executed our gameplan. We went back to some old defensive stuff.
“I give Brooke and Morgan a lot of credit. They focused their defense on Brooke tonight and she passed the ball. Morgan saw how they were defending and she just looked over at me and nodded. Those two know how to play basketball. They are the two best players in the NLC and two of the best in Northern Indiana. They are both Division I kids and we have never had that here before.”
Littwiller has committed to Eastern Illinois and McKinley is headed to Grand Valley State University. McKinley, who had a career-high 31 points in a win over DeKalb Tuesday night, is the program’s all-time leading scorer and all-time leader in 3-pointers.
“We just put so much pressure on our defense with our offense tonight,” said Yoder, whose team had 23 turnovers in the contest. “I thought that Kenzie (Bergman) did an outstanding job defensively on Brooke. But you take away one and the other kills you and Morgan did that to us tonight.”
Sophomores Karlie Fielstra and Kate Rulli each had six points for NorthWood. Senior Savannah Feenstra and freshman Kendal Miller each finished with five points and junior Kenzie Bergman had four for the Panthers.
Payne led the Panthers with eight rebounds and Rulli had six. Junior Neely Trenshaw had three assists.
Litwiller also racked up nine rebounds for the Raiders.
Northridge won the junior varsity game 36-31. Maddie Kuhn led NorthWood with 11 points. Alea Minnich scored eight and Bre Wise seven for the JV Panthers. Makena Knepp had nine points and Erin Mahaffa seven for Northridge.
Northridge sits atop the NLC standings at 5-0 with NorthWood in second at 4-1. Warsaw and Plymouth are both 3-2 with Goshen 2-3 and Wawasee, Concord and Memorial all 1-4.
Goshen beat Warsaw 39-26, Wawasee topped Memorial 46-36 and Plymouth defeated Concord 49-46 in other NLC games on Saturday.
NorthWood plays at Mishawaka Marian (14-3) Tuesday night in a varsity only game at 7 p.m. Northridge plays at NLC foe Elkhart Memorial (9-8) Friday night.