After playing a three-overtime game the night before, Norfolk couldn’t keep up with Bellevue West for all 32 minutes of the Class A semifinal contest Friday night.
The Thunderbirds dominated the Panthers 19-4 in the fourth quarter to secure a 60-49 win and advance to the state finals to play Westside. West entered the final quarter down by four, but a 13-2 spurt to start the fourth gave the T-birds a 54-47 lead and control of the game.
“I knew it would be a grind, it usually is at this point,” T-birds coach Doug Woodard said. “Norfolk definitely was tired. They played well except for the fourth quarter.”
The fourth quarter was the difference of the game. Norfolk ran out of gas, making only one field goal in the quarter and seeing the lead they held for much of the game disappear.
The T-birds pounced on the weary Panthers with Malik Hluchoweckyj, Austin Moore and Christian Hatterle each making a bucket to give West a 47-45 lead with 4:15 left in the game. Then, after wasting clock with crisp ball movement, Hluchoweckyj hit a dagger in a 3-pointer with 2:54 remaining, giving the T-birds a 50-45 lead and all but securing a state final berth for West.
“Malik hit that 3, that was a huge shot for us,” Woodard said. “He didn’t really shoot that well tonight, but that was huge.”
From there, the T-birds could rely on their free throw shooting to close out the game, something Woodard said they’ve done very well down the stretch of the season. West finished the game by making 10 of their final 11 shots from the line. Hluchoweckyj and CJ Johnson both hit four down the stretch for West with Hatterle adding a pair.
“That’s something we’ve done very well in the second half of the season,” Woodard said. “We’re pretty confident when we get the lead that these kids can step up and make free throws.”
Bellevue West held a 16-15 lead after the first quarter but Norfolk took control with a 16-10 advantage in the second quarter to takeover the lead. The Panthers controlled that lead through most the third, building it up to six at 41-35, their largest lead of the game.
Brad Cluff answered for Bellevue West by burying 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to knot-up the game. Norfolk notched the final four points of the quarter, but West held some momentum after Cluff’s six-point run to make its charge in the fourth quarter.
Hluchoweckyj led West with 19 points on the night, including nine in the fourth quarter. Johnson and Hatterle each added 11 with Cluff netting nine.
For Bellevue West, this game showed the maturation they’ve experience throughout the season.
“A lot of the times in the past we don’t win a game like this,” Woodard said. “We didn’t handle failure well and we’ve shown a lot of growth in those areas.”