NORTON: Jake Destefano, Reed Becker and Robby Robinson have been playing basketball together since third grade.
Caleb Pratt met up with Destefano, Becker and Robinson in the sixth grade, and together the four seniors extended their season Friday by leading host Norton to a 74-58 victory over Kenmore in a Division II sectional title game.
Destefano scored 18 points and had six rebounds, six assists, four steals and one block for Norton (15-8), which will meet St. Vincent-St. Mary in a district semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Canton Memorial Field House. St. V-M beat Northwest 71-40 on Friday.
“All indications are yes, this is the last game in this gym,” Norton coach Rod Swartz said. “They believe we will open next season in the new gym inside the new school.”
The current Norton gym with “The Lions Den” student section on the stage at the one end of the court behind the one basket opened in the mid-1950s, according to Swartz.
Norton jumped out to a 5-0 lead Friday and never trailed. The Panthers’ edge was 17-10 after one quarter, 32-26 at halftime and 43-41 through three quarters.
Kenmore (12-11) made its run with senior Deon’ta Collins and juniors Thomas Woods, Demond Taylor and Javere Salter leading the charge, but Norton did not fold.
“We played with great intelligence,” Swartz said. “I think we made great decisions and showed patience. Obviously, we did not play a perfect game, but we played well enough with those intents. That was part of the game-plan; make good decisions, shot selection and execution. We stepped up and did that.
“We made 14-of-18 from the [free-throw] line in the fourth quarter and that is part of why we scored 31 points in that quarter. The guys competed and got stops for the most part at the defensive end throughout the whole game. We built a lead and maintained a lead, and that is something that we have struggled to do lately.
“It was a great job to be able to win a sectional championship in the last game in our gym. I am proud of these guys.”
Kenmore won in the regular season over host Norton 59-50 in the Cardinals’ first game of the season and the Panthers’ second game of the season.
Pratt had other plans this time, scoring Norton’s first seven points and finishing with 16.
“We came out fast to get the momentum,” Pratt said. “We didn’t want them to get the momentum. They started pressuring us, but it was nice to have the lead, obviously.”
The Cardinals, under coach Brian Dawson, kept playing aggressive defense and pushing the tempo on offense, but were never able to grab a lead.
Destefano scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and Becker scored 10 of his 17 points in the final eight minutes.
“We controlled the pace of the game very well with our zone,” Destefano said. “Rebounding the ball helped, and we held [Kenmore senior Erik Palmer] to zero points.”
Robinson, who finished with nine points, seven rebounds and five assists, said “playing as a team defensively and offensively was pivotal.”
Junior Justin Csepe, senior Michael Murray, sophomore Taylor Warner and senior Michael Hardy combined to score 14 points for Norton.
“We played hard defensively,” Becker said. “We really packed it in and forced them to make shots rather than beat us inside. We also rebounded well.”
Kenmore finished with four players in double figures — Collins (16 points), Woods (15 points), Taylor (12 points) and Salter (11 points, seven rebounds).
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the #ABJVarsity high school blog at www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ.