Balanced Panthers pounce on Bearcats

NORFOLK, Neb. — In very different fashions, the Norfolk boys and girls picked up wins over Kearney on Friday night.

In a matchup of teams that entered the game with 13-6 records, the Class A No. 9 Norfolk boys won 74-49 with solid defense that held the Bearcats well below their 70-point average and a balanced offense that featured four starters in double figures.

Earlier, the Norfolk girls were able to grind out a 44-35 victory with the help of a diamond-and-one defense that limited the Bearcats' Skyler Snider, who averages over 21 point per game, to a single field goal and seven points.

Norfolk boys coach Ben Ries said his team played with intensity and focus.

"I was really pleased with the balance that we had," Ries said. "We had Brandon (Villalpando, 16 points) getting to the basket. Logan (Strom, 20 points) got some things done inside. And Travis (Larson, 13 points) and Lane (McCallum, 11 points) were able to find spots."

Norfolk sprinted to a 20-8 first-quarter lead which increased to a 25-point advantage entering the fourth quarter — after the Panthers' 29-point third quarter — and eventually a 32-point margin before the Panthers' bench finished the win.

"I just felt that we did a great job of moving the ball and getting them widened out," Ries said. "Then we were able to attack."

Being able to attack the basket helped the Panthers shoot better than 64 percent from the field, and they were also efficient (18 of 20) from the foul line.

Meanwhile, Norfolk's defense limited the Bearcats to less than 40 percent shooting, with McCallum defending Kanon Koster, who finished with 14 points — the only Kearney player to reach double figures.

The Panthers (14-6) also controlled the boards 28-20, led by Strom's eight rebounds.

"We're just trying to play our best basketball (this time of year) and be like we were tonight — consistently," Ries said. "We played four great quarters last Friday (a 30-point win over Fremont), and then went to Millard West the next night and played three in a loss. So our team has to take the step tomorrow to play four good quarters on the second night. Then we can start talking about district seeding and the other stuff."

The "second night" for the Panthers is a game at Lincoln East on Saturday night.

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