By Colin Harris | Staff Writer
It took a long time for Brian Miller, but his Norton Panthers can finally call themselves the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division's best.
Norton survived a low-scoring slugfest on Wednesday to clinch its first-ever division crown, topping host Kent Roosevelt 40-29 in both teams' season finale and ending Ravenna's three-year hold on the championship banner.
With the win, Norton (13-1 PTC Metro) claimed an outright title. Three-time defending division champion Ravenna finishes in second at 12-2, with both losses coming against Norton.
A Metro Divsion championship was a long time coming, according to head coach Brian Miller.
The Panthers had finished as the division's runner-up for four consecutive seasons until Wednesday.
"We've had five cracks at this thing, so it's great to finally break through," Miller said. "Before this season started, the seniors on this team set a league championship as their first goal; they wanted this really badly."
Norton built on a 10-7 lead to begin the second quarter with a 10-4 period that extended the Panthers' halftime lead to 19-11. Senior guard Cara Cook scored the period's first four points, while teammate Brooke Robinson answered a pair of Brianna Rock foul shots with five straight points, including a 3-pointer with 1:07 remaining, that built a 10-point lead for Norton.
Roosevelt's offense struggled all night from the floor with only two field goals in the first half that were separated by nearly 12 minutes of game time.
Norton clogged the lane, taking away dribble penetration and clean lanes at the basket by players like Rock and forward Courtney Olesh, instead forcing the Rough Riders (14-8, 9-5 PTC Metro) to settle for lower-percentage jump shots.
"I think that tonight was a game of missed shots for us," Kent Roosevelt head coach Craig Foreman said. "They wanted to take away (penetration) and force us to hit our jump shots and that really worked for them."
Miller said that he was pleased by the way his team performed defensively with a league title on the line.
"I thought we came into the game a little tight offensively and I don't think we really loosened up until we started to build a cushion," Miller said. "But I was really happy with our defensive effort. We forced (Roosevelt) to shoot from the outside and they struggled with that tonight."
Rock and Olesh each scored quick buckets to begin the third quarter and cut Roosevelt's deficit to four points, but a 9-4 Norton run over the rest of the quarter pushed its lead back out to nine points and sucked the energy out of the road gym.
No player scored in double figures for Norton as Jaclyn Fortner led the way with nine points, joined by Cook with eight. Cook also pulled down five rebounds as a part of a 24-board effort by the Panthers.
Arguably the Metro's top talent, Cook failed to score during a 12-point quarter for the Panthers. However, six of her teammates recorded points to keep Roosevelt at arm's length.
Rock led all scorers with 11 points. The sophomore Roosevelt standout only recorded three field goals, but finished 5-of-6 from the foul line.