For a team that hasn’t been challenged on too many occasions this season, the Norton Community High School girls’ basketball team handled some tense moments in its sub-state final with Russell about as well as coach George Rossi could have asked for.

Norton used a clutch basket from senior Taryn Kuhn and a defensive stop in the closing seconds to pull out a 51-49 thriller over Russell in Hoisington to advance to the Class 3A state tournament at Hutchinson Sports Arena.

“I thought the girls really did a good job of not panicking and not getting too flustered,” Rossi said. “We made some big plays when we needed to. Got a big rebound and Taryn made a big shot to put us ahead with 12 seconds left.”

The No. 2-seeded Bluejays (21-2) will open the tournament against No. 7 seed Scott Community (17-6) at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

Rossi said playing in a tight sub-state final could pay dividends for the Bluejays, whose only losses came against Wray (Colo.) and MCL regular-season champion Thomas More Prep-Marian.

“I think the game against Russell is a really good entry for us into state, because it was a very loud crowd and it was a stressful situation,” Rossi said. “I think that hopefully will prepare us.”

Kuhn leads a balanced attack for the Bluejays with 15 points per game while sophomore Tessa Hauser and senior Hadley Hauser are adding 11.1 and 10 points per game in the post.

Norton’s strength has been its defense, with the Bluejays allowing 50 points or more on just two occasions this season.

“I think the biggest thing is the girls have no quit,” Rossi said. “They get after it. I think the entire game they play defense hard. We rely on our defense probably more than our offense.”

The first-round matchup with Scott will be a rematch of last year’s sub-state final, which Scott won 41-34.

“I think they match up with us extremely well, probably better than anyone we’ve seen,” Rossi said. “They have two really, really good post players than can score all over the floor. They have a really good point guard, a young freshman who is quick. All their guards can shoot 3s, they’re quick and they’re aggressive. To me, they look a lot like us. They’re aggressive on defense and on offense, so I think it might be a heck of a game.

“I think the biggest thing is we’re going to have to rebound well. We’re going to have to control our turnovers and hopefully capitalize on some of theirs. We’re going to have to slow their posts down as much as we can. I think if we do that, we’ll have a shot at winning.”