GRANVILLE – With its signature pressure defense and hot outside shooting, the Newark girls basketball team took control in the first quarter Thursday.
The Norsemen used a 10-point run to take an 11-point lead at the end of the first quarter, and from there the game was never in doubt as No. 3-seeded Newark defeated No. 2 Putnam County 48-23 to win the Class 1A Putnam County Regional championship.
“I’m almost 70 and a first-year coach,” Newark coach Glenn Clausel said. “I coached junior high basketball all my life. They asked me to do this, and I took it, and I’m glad I did because I have a lot of good girls – a lot of competitive girls. A lot of these girls play three or four sports, so they’re used to competing and fighting hard. We shot the ball OK tonight. We rely a lot on our defense. That’s the hub of our team.
“I’m happy for the girls. I’m proud of the girls for fighting and coming together at the right time.”
It is the fifth consecutive regional championship for the Norsemen.
“It feels amazing,” Newark sophomore Addison Ness said. “We worked really hard, and we gave it our all.
“It’s a great experience. We’re a pretty close group, and we enjoy playing together, and that really helps on the court.”
Newark (24-7) advances to the Serena Sectional, where it will face the winner of Friday’s Willows Academy Regional final between Willows Academy and Walther Christian at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“Class 1A schools a lot of times struggle with our press because they don’t see a lot of it,” Clausel said. “A lot of teams just drop back because they don’t have the athletes. We’re going to hope that slows teams down. It’s going to be a tough sectional, but I think we have a good shot.”
The Norsemen used their intense defense to slow down the Panthers from the start, allowing only two points through the first 6 ½ minutes.
Newark’s offense struggled early as well, hitting only three free throws in the first 5 ½ minutes before Brooklyn Hatteberg scored the Norsemen’s first field goal on an inbounds play.
Taylor Kruser followed with a jumper, and Tess Carlson and Ness buried back-to-back 3-pointers to give Newark a 13-2 lead, forcing Putnam County to call a timeout.
“I think after those first couple of shots we made, we got all the jitters out and we just played basketball,” said Ness, who scored a game-high 11 points.
PC’s Gracie Ciucci knocked down a 3-pointer out of the timeout, but Ness hit another of her own to give Newark a 16-5 lead after eight minutes.
“We had that spurt in the first quarter where we got on them hard [with our press],” Clausel said. “A lot of it relies on anticipation, and we just scramble.
“These girls for three-fourths of the year just would not shoot. We struggled for outside shooting, and teams were packing in zones on us. We have really been working on shooting, and it’s coming around at the right time.
“It was nice to get out to that big lead.”
Newark, which beat PC 32-19 in the regular season finale, led by double digits from the end of the first quarter on, holding leads of 22-7 at halftime and 34-13 after three quarters.
“Newark made some shots early with three 3s in the first 10 minutes, and we just couldn’t buy a bucket again,” PC coach Jared Sale said. “When you dig yourself a hole against a team that does a nice job running clock on offense and limits your trips on the other end, it makes it really, really hard to dig yourself out of a double-digit hole. I really thought we did a better job against the pressure this time, but when we got looks we didn’t convert.”
A bright spot for the Panthers in the loss was junior Ava Hatton eclipsing 1,000 career points with a free throw in the fourth quarter.
“It’s obviously a nice accomplishment,” Sale said. “You don’t see many juniors getting that, so for her to be able to do that, it’s really great. She’ll have a chance at the all-time [school] scoring record for the girls next year.”
Putnam County finishes 22-10.
“We had Es Avila go down the last game of the summer, and it kind of changed the complexion of where we wanted to be and what we wanted to do,” Sale said. “We had to have people step into different roles and figure some different things out. To go 22-10 and be Tri-County Conference [Tournament] champs, it’s a great season. Obviously, we’d love to be playing Tuesday, but when you look back at it, you can’t really complain. I’m very lucky to have great kids who come in and work hard every day and a great coaching staff.”