By Jim Manion | Correspondent
The Norton Panthers wrapped up their third Portage Trail Conference Metro Championship in only four years Friday night in the Panther Den at Norton High School. The Panthers used a 14-0 run at the end of the first half to take a double-digit lead and held on in the second half to claim a 56-46 victory over visiting Streetsboro.
The Norton win gives the Panthers (18-3, 12-1 PTC Metro) a two-game advantage with only one division game remaining next Friday at Kent Roosevelt. The Rockets (11-9, 10-3 PTC Metro) had won eight straight division games before falling to the Panthers.
Norton head coach Rod Swartz was excited about the victory as he watched his players cut down the nets following the game.
"We have played pretty much eight or nine guys all year and tonight we had a couple lulls in the game that looked like they would make a run, but then guys stepped up and it all worked out," said Swartz. "I'm really proud of this team. It is something special because we have had to deal with a lot of adversity this year both on the court and off the court and these kids have really come through nice."
Jeff Schulte led the Panther offensive attack by firing up five 3-pointers and finishing the night with 18 points. Tyler Sherman closed with 14 points, eight coming at the foul line, while also pulled down a team-high nine rebounds. Javonte Smith finished the night with eight points.
The final four minutes of the first half sewed up a lead that the Rockets would not be able to overcome. Streetsboro took a two-point lead in the final seconds of the first quarter on a 3-pointer by Brandon Gency for a 9-7 advantage after one.
With the Rockets leading 18-15 with 4:28 remaining the half, the Panthers went on their run and Streetsboro could not find the basket for the final four minutes of the half. The Panthers had five 3s in the first half, with Schulte hitting three long-range bombs. The Panthers took a 29-18 advantage into the locker room at intermission.
Gency led the Streetsboro scoring with 15 points while Paul Jenkins scored 10. Rocket leading scorer Jordan Matusik was held to only eight points, something Swartz said his team really worked hard to accomplish.
"Everyone knows that he is their scorer and we threw about four different guys at him tonight in an effort to shut him down, and our guys responded," said Swartz.
Schulte opened the second half by hitting another 3, then Matt McGlone scored inside and Norton maintained its advantage with a 43-29 lead after three quarters.
Streetsboro managed to cut the deficit to only nine points with 3:26 on the game clock, but the Panthers came back with five straight points at the free-throw line and went back up by 54-40 with two minutes to play.
"We are going to enjoy this now and get back to work on Monday and prepare for Kent," said Swartz. "We want to have an exciting season and this is just part of it. We want to have an extended run in the tournaments and you never know what can happen."