The Norfolk High School boys and girls basketball teams were both seeking important wins Friday night against the Lincoln North Star Navigators.
The Norfolk High boys squad had gone toe-to-toe with six quality Class A teams but had come up short each time — accumulating four wins against Class B teams and sub-.500 Fremont — and wanted to “finish” a big game.
Meanwhile, the girls team was hoping to end a five-game losing streak.
The Panthers did both Friday night, with the boys edging Lincoln North Star (now 6-6) 61-56 and the girls securing a 48-40 win over the Navigators.
“We’ve been close, and what we’ve talked about is taking that next step,” boys coach Tony Siske said. “And today we did it.”
Taking that step was a team effort, and several Panthers contributed.
Cameron Eisenhauer contributed 21 points, making 3 of 6 three-point tries in the third period to spark a 26-point Norfolk burst that allowed the Panthers to rally from 12 down to take a 53-52 lead at the quarter break. That marked the Panthers’ first lead since the first period, when Eisenhauer, who scored nine of the Panthers’ first 17 points, provided the Panthers with a short-lived 17-16 advantage.
That lead disappeared seconds later when North Star’s Donovan Williams — who led all scorers with 30 points — made his fourth of six 3s in the game for a 19-17 first-quarter Gators’ lead that would expand to 10 points in the second period and peaked at 41-29 early in the third before Norfolk’s offensive effort turned the tables.
But Siske also credited the Panthers’ defensive effort, a team strategy designed to focus on Williams, the talented North Star junior.
“We tried to give him a lot of attention; we were telling our guys that Connor (Clayton) is guarding him and has to take away the 3, while the rest of you guys have to be there on the drive,” Siske said. “He got to the rim a little bit too easy a few times, but other than that, I think we really made him work. We may have worn him down a little bit.”
Williams made 12 of 25 shots but just one of his four attempts in the fourth period.
In the game’s final eight minutes, Norfolk’s ability to maintain its composure allowed the Panthers to control the ball and the clock — forcing North Star to scramble trying to defend ball and player movement.
Connor Caskey and Luke Kluver each made a pair of free throws, while Tyson Stelling scored on consecutive drives down the lane against a trapping Navigators defense to outscore North Star 8-4 to secure the 61-56 win.
“Connor’s effort on Williams; Cooper Caskey (10 points, 3-3 from the field and 2-2 from the free throw line) made big plays,” Siske said. “Everyone that stepped on the floor tonight contributed to this big win.”
In the girls contest, the teams traded the lead five times and were tied on six other occasions.
North Star got four free throws by Ashtyn Olsen and a 3 by DrewAnn Edwards to establish a 32-31 lead to end the third, but the fourth quarter belonged to the Panthers as Norfolk outscored the Navigators 17-8.
Thirteen of those points came from junior point guard Anden Baumann, who stroked back-to-back 3s to return the Panthers to a 38-35 lead, then finished Norfolk’s scoring by making 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch en route to the 48-40 victory.
“Sometimes when you don’t shoot very well, it becomes mental, and I think we had a little bit of that. We just focused this week on the fundamentals of how we want to catch and get into a positive feeling,” girls coach Jared Oswald said.
Norfolk held the early advantage, leading 10-4 on a Jalen Hoffman 3.
Hoffman scored the Panthers’ first seven points before sophomore Chelsea Strom took over with a 3 and a basket in the lane to help Norfolk lead 13-10 after one quarter.
Gabby Ruth then opened the second period with back-to-back 3s for the Panthers, but an 11-0 North Star run gave the Navigators the advantage, at 21-19 — their first lead since scoring the game’s first field goal — until two free throws by Norfolk’s Hailey Kleinschmit tied the score at 21 to end the half.
The Navigators scored on field goals by 6-foot-3 freshman Bekka Allick and Saylor Schaefer to create North Star’s largest lead of the game at 25-21, but Ruth scored on four consecutive possessions — including a 3 — that gave Norfolk a 30-25 lead.
“I thought Jalen (Hoffman, seven points) was huge getting us started, Gabby (Ruth, 18 points) kept attacking and Anden (Baumann, 13 points) helped us finish strong,” Oswald said. “It doesn’t show up on a stat line, but I really thought that on defense Alex (Ruth) — as a communicator — did a good job of talking to our girls about where to be, and I thought that was really big.”
Norfolk improves to 3-8 on the season, while Lincoln North Star — paced by 11 points from Abby Krieser and 10 by Allick — slips to 5-7.
Lincoln North Star 19 20 13 4 -- 56
Norfolk 17 10 26 8 -- 61
Lincoln North Star (6-6): Kwat Abdelkarim 2-2 0-0 5, Donovan Williams 12-25 2-3 30, Noah Hudson 0-1 0-0 0, Owen Baker 0-2 0-0 0, Luke Juracek 1-2 0-0 3, Josiah Allick 2-3 0-1 4, Jared Lopez 5-5 2-2 12. Totals: 22-40 4-6 56.
Norfolk (5-6): Tate Brudigan 3-4 0-0 8, Connor Clayton 4-5 0-0 9, Tyson Stelling 3-5 0-2 6, Cameron Eisenhauer 8-18 2-2 21, Luke Kluver 1-7 3-7 5, Cooper Caskey 3-3 2-2 10. Totals: 23-43 7-13 61.
Lincoln North Star 10 11 11 8 -- 40
Norfolk 13 8 10 17 -- 48
Lincoln North Star (5-7): Saylor Schaefer 1-5 0-0 2, DrewAnn Edwards 3-8 0-0 7, Ashtyn Olsen 0-1 4-4 4, Abby Krieser 5-12 0-0 11, Kinsley Ragland 1-10 2-5 4, Bekka Allick 5-9 0-1 10, Alivya Bollen 1-3 0-0 2. Totals: 16-47 6-10 40.
Norfolk (3-8): Nealy Brummond 0-3 0-0 0, Gabby Ruth 7-11 1-2 18, Anden Baumann 2-7 7-8 13, Karly Kalin 0-1 2-4 2, Chelsea Strom 2-3 0-0 5, Jalen Hoffman 3-10 0-0 7, Hailey Kleinschmit 0-1 2-2 2, Jordyn Schommer 0-1 1-2 1, Alex Ruth 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 14-38 13-18 48.