Panthers fall just short of states

Bailey Acord blocks a shot in Norton’s 47-35 loss to Napoleon in the regional finals.

Norton’s girls basketball team had their season end in the regional finals with a 47-35 loss to Napoleon at Mansfield High School.

The Panthers tailed 23-22 midway through the third quarter, but that’s when the Wildcats went on their biggest run of the game. Napoleon made back-to-back 3-pointers to force a Norton timeout, and after a Gabriella Destefano basket the Wildcats ended the quarter with another 3-pointer and a layup to take a 34-24 lead into the fourth. They would extend their lead to as high as 16 to cruise to the State Final Four.

“(Napoleon) made 3’s, the bottom line is they made 3’s,” said Head Coach Brian Miller, as Napoleon made 6-of-13 shots from deep while Norton shot just 1-of-9. “That’s the difference in the game, they got hot at the end of the third and built a little bit of a lead, and that team there is going to pull it out and you’re going to have to chase. Our girls worked hard in the fourth but we just couldn’t make some shots. We had opportunities for some easy layups around the basket, but they’re working so hard, they’re exhausted. My goal was to keep a rotation going but if you’re trying to score you have to put your best five players on the floor.”

With Norton down 47-31 with 1:25 to play, Miller called a timeout and put his four seniors, Kaylee Murawski, Sarah Nauer, Madison Tatka and Riley Ballinger on the floor together one last time. They were each able to exit before the game to a big applause from fans on both sides. “I may get a little teary eyed every year, but this group of seniors was special,” Miller said. “I’m sad to see them go, it really hurts.”

Murawski led Norton with 16 points, four rebounds and two steals. The senior averaged 13 points and eight rebounds in four tournament games after breaking her hand Feb. 5 against Laurel. “She tried to make some shots with her right hand but she struggled, but what a warrior,” Miller said. “It was unbelievable. The girl did a phenomenal job in the games she played in this tournament. You just won’t see that, you won’t see boys doing that. That girl, and Bailey Shutsa with the beating she takes and Acord, those girls, what a great effort all season long. That’s what basketball is about.”

Kaylee Murawski finishes with her left hand against Napoleon.

Bailey Shutsa had 9 points and three assists while Destefano (6 points), Tatka (2) and Addie Kropp (2) also scored.

The Panthers finish the season with a 23-4 record, while Napoleon heads to Dayton next Friday for the state semifinal game against Dayton Carroll. “(Our) goal was to get to Dayton, and I feel horrible that they didn’t get there,” said Miller. “But that doesn’t discount a 23-4 (record), winning the league, getting to the regional finals. I mean, there’s 500 or so teams that wished they were playing in the regional final. We gave them everything we had, tonight they made (shots) and we didn’t.”

A large crowd of Norton fans cheer on the Panthers as their starters are announced.

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