Midnight finally arrived for Norfolk’s Cinderella team. And with the switch to daylight saving time, third-ranked Omaha Westside made sure it came even earlier.
An 11-1 second-quarter run put Westside in front to stay, then the Warriors pulled away by hitting 16 of 19 free throws in the final period en route to a 53-40 victory in the Class A state title game Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
For the Panthers (15-14), it was the end of a state tournament run in which they knocked off 2014 state champion and No. 1 Omaha Benson, ending its 45-game winning streak, in the first round before upsetting No. 5 Bellevue West in the semifinals.
“I hope they can take away some great memories from the last two days and a great game today,” said Norfolk coach Jared Oswald, whose team lost to Westside by 29 points in mid-January. “We had nothing to lose and we played that way. I was proud of how we played, we were close.”
Westside (24-4) finished the season with its 15th straight win. It was the Warriors’ second state title, the other coming in 1999.
Westside coach Steve Clark said his team took nothing for granted against the heavy underdog.
“One thing about our team, they focus every game and they respect everyone they play. Their effort doesn’t waiver game to game. It’s pretty steady,” Clark said. “They knew this would be a tough game.”
Like Bellevue West, which shot 5-of-45 from three-point range in the semifinals, Westside struggled from the perimeter against Norfolk’s 2-3 zone. The Warriors were just 1-of-18 from beyond the arc, but the trio of Jay Bridgeman, Jen Poots and Maya Solarana combined to hit 11 of 17 shots inside to boost the Westside attack while grabbing 21 rebounds.
Bridgeman, a 6-foot-1 senior and Nebraska-Omaha recruit, finished with a team-high 16 points, while the 5-8 Poots finished with 13, 11 more than her season average.
“Jen’s really strong and powerful, and she’s good at finding open areas inside and finishing,” Bridgeman said. “Their zone defense was pretty physical and we were having trouble hitting outside shots. In the second half, we did a better job of moving the ball and attacking, and that opened some things up.”
Bridgeman and Poots had the first eight points in the second-period run that put Westside up 18-13 with 3:02 left in the half. After leading 20-16 at intermission, Westside scored the first seven points of the third quarter to build an 11-point advantage.
The Panthers got as close as five in the fourth quarter, the last time at 39-34 with 2:42 left after a driving layup by senior guard Jaycee Bradley, who had 11 of her game-high 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Another senior, TaLeah Williams, added 13 for the Panthers.
Freshman guard Quinn Weidemann got the defensive assignment on Bradley and held the South Dakota recruit to six points in the first three periods. Weidemann helped Westside get some separation by hitting 8 of 10 foul shots in the fourth quarter.
“She’s a great player, and I was a little nervous at first matching up with her,” Weidemann said of Bradley. “As the game went on, I became more confident that I could guard her."
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