By Mike Deak
NAPPANEE – There was no party like it was Feb. 29. There was no public address announcement. There was barely mention of it if not for Craig Wallen asking Mark Heeter how he felt about it in press row.
But in a season where the defending Class 3-A champions were still seeking their first win, Heeter and his NorthWood girls basketball team will take the ‘W’ however it can. Several check boxes were filled in after the Black Swish dismantled Mishawaka 51-23 Tuesday night at The Pit.
“I thought it was important to come out and win convincingly,” said Heeter, who earned his first win as NorthWood head coach, the team’s first in six tries in 2020. Heeter had piled up over 200 in his previous stint at Triton almost two decades ago. “The girls came out and played aggressively. That’s what mattered. We needed to get some of the little things ironed out that we weren’t seeing in those first five games, and we saw some real improvement tonight.”
Tuesday’s matchup saw NorthWood also play its first game since Dec. 8. And unlike several other programs that have struggled with lengthy time away from game action, NorthWood looked rather polished in its approach. After Mishawaka hit a trio of field goals in the first quarter to keep the game close, the Panthers locked down Mishawaka for just one field goal in the second quarter. In that time, NorthWood raced to a 24-10 lead at the break.
The game tilted to the hosts in the third, the Panthers holding the Cavemen without a field goal for over seven minutes as the score ballooned to 35-14.
“When you come out and have a big lead like that, it’s really just zero-zero,” Heeter said. “You can’t go out and just expect to coast because you played well in the first half. The first four minutes are key, and we extended the lead from 14 to 20, then we could coast a little. We wanted to see that lead grow, and then work on executing our defense to make sure they don’t make a late run.”
NorthWood built its lead in a variety of ways, whether it be Kendal Miller and Abby Steiner in the second quarter, a steal and layup by Fatima Ghaffar, or offensive rebounds by Bre Wise, who once again is thriving on doing all the dirty work off the scorebook.
Alea Minnich had a whale of an individual effort to lead the Panthers. Minnich dropped in 18 points to lead all scorers, but she also had six steals, five rebounds and four assists.
Miller had 10 points and Wise six points and seven rebounds, but Heeter was more impressed with with five rebounds and two steals from Aaliyah Bonner, five points from Abby Steiner, and five rebounds and four assists from Macy Lengacher. The complimentary parts, Heeter feels, is how his team will work its way back into the conversation.
“These girls all need to know that they can score, everybody has to be a scorer, at least to think that way,” Heeter said. “Not everyone is going to score a bunch of points, but you have to be a threat. Whether your back is to the basket or you have a wide open look. I think we are getting better at that with each practice, and now another game under our belt.”
Katie Baumgartner led the Cavemen (4-6, 1-1 NLC) with seven points.
NorthWood is still working through a host of postponed contests, and that will be the case next week. Rather than defend its title at the Bankers Classic hosted by Northridge, it will play a pair of Northern Lakes Conference contests Tuesday at Concord and Wednesday at home against Plymouth.