UNIONTOWN: For the second time in three years, the Norton Panthers are girls basketball district champions.
Relying on its seniors and superior depth, Norton used a closing first-half run Saturday to gain the lead and then wore down the Manchester Panthers 55-40 to win the Lake Division II district title.
“They are dreaming big and big things are happening for them,” Norton coach Brian Miller said about his players as they cut down the nets at Lake High School.
Cara Cook and Jaclyn Fortner led a senior group of four that were key in Norton’s victory. Manchester started two juniors and three sophomores.
“We had to work a little bit harder this time [compared to the 2011 district title team],” Cook said. “We didn’t have as much natural talent.”
Miller’s bench players outscored Manchester’s reserves 19-0.
“They had kids stepping up,” Manchester coach Tucker Pappas said. “They deserve it.”
Norton (18-7) received a boost from sophomore Nina Dzombic, a reserve forward, who missed all of last season with a ligament tear in her knee. She scored a career-high 10 points, including two 3-pointers. Carolyn Ivy, a senior, also came off the bench and scored nine points.
“Our coach pushed us to be here today and I was glad to help him become a champion with our team,” Dzombic said. “I feel blessed to be able to be here today after all that I’ve been through.”
After watching Manchester’s 10 3-pointers in a semifinal win over Triway, Miller mixed his defenses hoping to prevent a repeat performance.
“We didn’t let them get comfortable on the arc,” he said.
Norton sank five 3-pointers to Manchester’s three.
Cook struck for 12 of her game-high 16 points in the first half, and Norton led 36-26. Miller took a technical foul at 5:24 of the second quarter and believed it sparked his team.
“We pretty much took over the game from that point forward,” he said.
Norton closed the first half on an 11-0 run and led the rest of the way. Manchester (22-4) cut its deficit to six points twice in the third quarter on buckets by junior point guard Kayci Krzynowek, but then missed its next nine shots from the floor, trailing 50-36. Krzynowek tallied 15 points before fouling out.
“We’re not deep,” Pappas said. “And when you have to come out and play so hard in three days like that, when you play six kids really, you are in trouble.”
Junior Brooke Robinson had nine points and six assists and Fortner added nine points for Norton.
Manchester junior Karley Dougherty had 11 points.
Norton will play the winner of Saturday’s game between Clyde and Willard in a regional semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Ontario High School.
Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps.