NORTON: They celebrated good times at Norton High School on Friday night.
The ubiquitous Kool & the Gang song said as much, blaring in the background as the boys high school basketball team took a bow on stage behind one basket, then cut down the nets as happy home fans swarmed the court.
A big second quarter put Norton (18-3, 12-1) ahead to stay, defeating Streetsboro 56-46 to clinch the championship of the Portage Trail Conference-Metro Division before a rocking, capacity crowd.
That put the Panthers two games ahead of Streetsboro (11-9, 10-3) with one league game remaining, and avenged their only league loss. The Rockets edged Norton 51-49 at Streetsboro on Jan. 8.
“I love this time of year, man,” Norton’s Tyler Sherman said. “I love coming out here every day playing. Can’t get enough of these guys. These are my brothers. I wouldn’t want to win it with anyone else.”
The 6-foot-7 Sherman, one of five Norton seniors honored before the game on Senior Night — the final home game of the season — scored 14 points, grabbed nine rebounds, blocked four shots and was an intimidating force against the smaller Rockets.
Norton trailed by three midway through the second quarter before closing the half with 14 consecutive points for a 29-18 lead. Norton added a 3-point basket by Jeff Schulte at the start of the second half to complete a 17-0 run before a layup by Streetsboro’s Dorian Williams broke the drought.
The Rockets went scoreless the final 4:28 of the first half.
“We realized what we were doing wasn’t cutting it,” Sherman said. “Coach [Rod Swartz] told us to step it up on defense, get better shots, move the ball around.”
Jay Ventura started the run with a 3-point shot, and a Sherman layup put the Panthers ahead to stay. Four points by senior JaVontae Smith, another 3-pointer by Schulte and Matt McGlone’s basket off a Smith steal completed the first-half scoring.
Schulte, a 5-11 junior, led all scorers with 18 points, and was 5-of-9 on 3-pointers.
“We knew we had to come out here and win a league title, and that’s what we did,” Schulte said. “We bought into the system, what our coach tells us. I was feeling real good in warm-ups, got some good stretches going. Just lighting it up, feeling good, feeling good.”
Norton led by as many as 16 points midway through the third quarter, and 43-29 heading to the fourth. Streetsboro twice cut it to nine, the last time at 49-40 with 2:59 left, but got no closer as Sherman scored 11 points including 7-of-7 from the foul line in the quarter.
Streetsboro’s Devin Rencher, a 6-2 junior, scored 15 points and teammate Paul Jenkins, a 6-4 junior, added 10.
Norton shared the PTC-Metro title with Kent Roosevelt last year. And according to the banners on the wall, this is the first time since 1950-51 the Panthers have won back-to-back championships.
“Every championship is very sweet,” Swartz said. “The adversity this team has had to deal with, on and off the floor all year between us as a basketball family. People don’t understand outside but we’ve had a lot of things going on. I couldn’t be more proud of a group of kids and how they’ve handled that adversity.”
Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps.