With about two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Norwell coach Eric Thornton signaled to the officials that he wanted to make a mass substitution.
He gathered his four seniors on the floor.
“I told them I was going to take them out right then,” said Thornton about his four upperclassmen – Maiah Shelton, Kaylee Fuelling, Lauren Bales and Grace Bradtmueller. “I told them to look up and look at everybody who has supported you through your career and what you all mean to them.
“I wanted them to have that moment. At that point in the game they had given everything they had. It was time to reflect on what those seniors had done.”
It was a special moment in an otherwise-forgettable day, with the Knights falling to South Bend Washington 61-40 in the Class 3A North Semistate at LaPorte.
Norwell’s seniors had led them through so much over the last few years, culminating in the program’s first regional title in seven years last week. But they were overwhelmed on Saturday. The Panthers were big, they were quick and they were physical.
Washington (22-5) jumped out to an early advantage, leading by less than five minutes into the game. The deficit ballooned to 21 points at half, with the Knights sitting at just 10 points through 16 minutes – eight of which came from Shelton.
The incessant pressure by the Panthers forced 12 first-half turnovers, many of which turned into easy buckets in transition. The length of Washington had Norwell looking hesitant to get off shots. Bales had her first two shots blocked and never got on track, finishing without scoring a point.
Meanwhile, Washington had no such issues. RaShunda Jones had 14 points and Amiyah Reynolds added 11 in the first half, while leading scorer Mila Reynolds hit just a single three, but the Panthers were still up 21. Francisca Galicia, the only senior regular in Washington’s rotation, continuously altered shots and was in position to stymie Norwell’s attacks to the hoop. The Knights were never able to stop the dribble penetration and the pass to the bucket once the help slid over in the zone.
“It is hard because it is everything combined,” said Thornton on what Washington did to affect his team. “If you say you are going to take one thing away and pack (the defense) in, they can knock down the shots. And if you do not get pressure on them then they drive it right by you. If you are a step off with your gap help it is to the rim.”
The Knights (23-6) showed some fight in the second half and stepped up to challenge Washington physically, but the deficit never dropped below 15 points.
Norwell finished 1-of-13 from three-point range, with junior Mackinzie Toliver hitting the lone triple. Shelton had a team-high 16 for the Knights while Kaylee Fuelling added 10.
Washington (22-5) heads to its first state championship game appearance since 2009. RaShunda Jones led the Panthers with 18 points and Mila Reynolds added 17.
Washington will take on No. 1 Silver Creek (24-3) in the Class 3A state championship game on either Friday or Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.