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Defense leads Squires to upset of Norse

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

NORTH MANCHESTER — The Class A No. 10 ranked Northfield girls’ basketball entered Saturday night’s battle with Manchester flying high, winners of consecutive Three Rivers Conference (TRC) basketball.

The Squires would quickly and swiftly ground the Norse.

Manchester would hold the Norse to 17 percent shooting on the night, just one field goal in the second half and 27 total points, the lowest scoring output from Northfield in nearly three years as the Squires earned a 38-27 upset.

“It was locking in on defense,” Manchester head coach Jacob Everett said. “The way our schedule lines up, we have a lot of games at the beginning of the year and then we kind of slow it down. We had a week (to prepare for) Oak Hill, we had a week for Northfield. We knew this was a game…that we could take five days and really put together a nice game plan and work with my coaching staff to take away their first option on the perimeter.

“The girls had a great week of practice. Every day was a good practice. I felt really good going into the game. I told them before the game ‘You guys worked this hard and this is it. This is your game to win.’

Manchester allowed just one run of more than five points from Northfield on the night, that coming in the second quarter when Northfield scored seven unanswered to take a 16-13 lead.

The Norse would carry that margin into the locker room as they lead 18-15 at the break, but Manchester scored the opening six points of the second half and forced a timeout from Northfield less than two minutes into the third quarter.

Northfield would not lead again the rest of the evening and would never be closer than four points as the Squires silenced a Norse offense that came in averaging 56.6 points per game.

“We came out on defense and man did we set the tone,” Everett said. “That was something that I really, really noticed. And we kept it going the entire game. We were out on their shooters trying to take away that three and then closing down the drive when we could. Our defense, holding them to 27 points, that’s a good basketball team to hold to 27 points. I can’t say enough about our kids’ effort on the defensive end. And then executing enough on offense to get the win.”

Despite earning the win, Manchester trailed for large portions of the first half. Ariel Dale opened the scoring for Northfield with a lay-up, but Manchester responded with five-straight points, four of those coming from Emma West.

The two sides swapped leads for the remainder of the first period before back-to-back scores from Kiera Hatfield and Erika Kendall gave the hosts a 13-9 edge.

Northfield’s lone aforementioned run saw Dale convert at the free throws line for three points before consecutive buckets from Kelcie Thomson and Melanie Beery to give the Norse a 16-13 lead.

Hatfield and Beery traded scores prior to the half, but it was all Squires in the second half.

Kendall, West and Day scored the first three field goals in the third quarter to give Manchester a 21-18 edge.

The run continued with a lay-up and a pair of free throws from West, making it a 10-0 run across the opening 3:44 of the quarter.

Northfield’s first points of the third quarter came on a free throw from Addi Baker at the line. The lone field goal of the half was a three-pointer from Dale, but Northfield was limited to just 2-of-17 shooting from deep on the night.

“It was guarding the three-point line,” Everett said of the key to his defense’s success on the night. “That was our main focus, get out on Dale, get out on Thomson, make sure we take away their first option. Then once Thomson drove or Ariel drove, then we could close down the driving lane at the same time. And that’s hard to get any player to do at any level and our girls really did a good job of executing that exact plan defensively for us.”

Northfield’s struggles continued from the field in the fourth quarter as they finished the night 8-for-46 shooting. The woes reached even the free throw line where Northfield shot just 4-for-12 in the fourth quarter and 9-for-20 on the night.

Manchester opened the lead to 31-23 to open the frame and never saw the margin dip back below six points the remainder of the contest.

The defining moment of the quarter, and the night, saw Dale, a career 81 percent free throw shooter, miss three-straight attempts at the line after being fouled beyond the arc with 11.4 seconds left and her side down 36-27.

The hosts, meanwhile, went 14-for-24 at the line on the night and 7-for-10 in the final quarter. Kendall led the Squires in the win, tallying 11 points and 10 rebounds. Day grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds to go along with nine points.

West and Kennedy Fierstos had seven points apiece while Hatfield finished with four.

Dale tied for game-high honors with 11 points while Thomson chipped in six points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Manchester would win the rebounding battle 35-28 while adding nine deflections and swiping five steals.

“They were ready for the game, there was a lot of energy on the bench, a lot of energy on the floor during it and then had a lot of energy in the locker room after,” Everett said. “It’s good to celebrate a win on your home court.”

Northfield falls to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the TRC with the loss while Manchester improves to 4-5 on the year while adding its second conference win in as many tries.

The Squires will be back in action tonight when they travel to Huntington North with tip-off set for 7:30 p.m. Northfield will also be back on the court tonight with a home non-conference battle with Taylor. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m.