DECATUR – We knew that Norwell’s pace caused some major chaos all season long. Their 1-3-1 zone and their trapping with high octane footwork is a real issue for teams.

I will be the first to admit that I didn’t see their first half coming in Saturday morning’s Regional win over Winchester, who was the Class 2A state runner up each of the last two seasons. The Knights used a frenetic pace and masterful offensive rebounding to pull away from the Golden Falcons and give themselves cushion for a 66-43 win.

18 points is a big halftime hole to crawl out of, though Winchester tried, believe you me.

“Our kids have done a good job of staying in the present, enjoying that and not looking ahead,” Norwell coach Eric Thornton said. “We thought we could wear them down, we wanted to push the ball.”

The Golden Falcons got out to a strong start, thanks in part to four early Norwell traveling violations, but could never separate themselves. Breann Barger tied the game at 5 when Hailey Henschen drew the defense in to the post and kicked it out. Seconds later, Barger used a steal to create her own fast break to give Norwell a 7-5 lead that they never lost.

One of the biggest momentum plays of the first half came with 6:52 left in the second quarter when Henschen blocked Caitlyn Campbell’s shot and the ball got pushed ahead for a Maiah Shelton lay in. The rest of the first half just went Norwell’s way, feeding in part from that moment as Winchester remained mostly hesitant to attack the rim and sluggish against the Knight tempo.

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Norwell’s Kaylee Fuelling looks to move the ball against Winchester during February 15’s Class 3A Regional game at Bellmont.

The Knights pushed the lead to 10 points with 5:24 left in the first half when Kaylee Fuelling came up with a steal, pushed it ahead to herself to score and convert the and-one chance.

Norwell was overcoming their own mistakes with their pace, hustle and major offensive rebounding through the meat of the second quarter. Norwell out rebounded Winchester 45-26 in the game with 22 offensive rebounds to Winchester’s nine.

“In our scouting, we could see that when they play a triangle and two or a box and one, there is no definitive blockout. When you are playing that type of junk defense, you are not going to get blocked out,” Thornton said. “We showed it to them on film, we said there are going to be all kinds of gaps out there, but don’t forget about offensive rebounds.”

Norwell led by 20 in the third quarter after Barger free throws and Winchester did all they could to play catch up, getting within 10 with 1:42 left in the third after Madeline Lawrence took over with her best effort of the game.

Lawrence, the leading Golden Falcon scorer, had just two points in the first half.

“We got great advice on how to guard her [Lawrence] and that doesn’t always work out. Our kids had to execute that,” Thornton said. “I’m not saying we are begging her to shoot the three but its pretty close to that and just understanding that she is so good at drawing contact and making it look like its more contact than it really is. She has a great reputation as a scorer.”

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Norwell’s Maiah Shelton looks towards an official for a call as she attempts to tie up the ball with Winchester’s Becca Chamberlin during February 15’s Class 3A Regional game at Bellmont.

Norwell persevered in the fourth, again because of their pace. While they kept pushing on defense, the Knights used the presence of mind to slow things down offensively down the stretch. With 4:19 left in the game, Thornton was preaching “nothing but layups” to his team and seconds later, they delivered. Lauren Bales drove the lane, drawing in defenders so she could dump the ball off to Barger, who scored and earned a trip to the foul line. After her free throw, the score was back to the halftime gap of 18 points with Norwell up 59-41. Shelton pushed the Norwell lead back to 20 with 3:54 left with a jumper.

Winchester was held well below their 71.4 point per game average in the loss, scoring a season low with 43 points.

The win earned Norwell a trip to Saturday’s 8 p.m. regional final opposite either Benton Central or Garrett, who played in the noon game Saturday.

“My coaching mentor Jack Edison always told me ‘don’t react in tournament play to some mistakes,'” Thornton said. “It is hard to do that because you know how important every possession is. No quit in this team coming back and always trying to do the right thing.”

Shelton and Barger each finished with 19 points for Norwell with Shelton having a game high 11 rebounds to Barger’s eight. Henschen and Fuelling each added nine rebounds and Fuelling registered six steals.

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