HUTCHINSON — The Norton girls were stunned at the start but scrappy until the end. An 18-point halftime deficit simply proved too much to overcome.
Royal Valley took control from the outset and made enough plays in the final eight minutes to hold off Norton for a 53-44 victory in the Class 3A state semifinals Friday at Hutchinson Sports Arena.
The win puts the Panthers (20-5) in Saturday’s 4 p.m. state title contest where they will face top-seed Cheney. Norton (22-3) will meet Nemaha Central (21-4) in the third-place game at noon.
"We have to treat this game tomorrow like it's our state championship so to speak, because we'll be playing for a trophy," Norton coach George Rossi said. "Tonight's second half will hopefully do a lot for our confidence because we know we can play well."
The Bluejays will hope for and need a better start. Norton trailed 7-0 only four possessions into the game and was down 11-2 after one quarter.
Things didn't improve much in the second period. When Royal Valley's Mary Broxterman banked in a 10 footer, the Panthers led 19-4 with 2:30 to play in the quarter. They finished the half leading 24-6 as Norton went 3 of 21 from the field before the break.
"I think we got shellshocked," Rossi said. "We got down so quickly and didn't react very well. We were playing on our heels and we were not aggressive like we were in the second half.
"They were so quick and we just weren't reacting quick enough."
After scoring six points in the first half, the Bluejays put up 16 points in the third quarter and still lost ground.
Royal Valley led 42-22 to start the fourth quarter before the Bluejays scored the first eight points of the final period.
Norton senior Taryn Kuhn had 10 of her 16 points in the fourth, including a pair of free throws that made it 48-40 with 1:58 to play, but that was as close as the Bluejays could get.
"I think we came out and played more of our game," Rossi said. "We played aggressively and on defense we played the way we normally do for four quarters.
"We started hitting some shots and that fed our confidence a little bit. Give our kids credit for working their tails off until the end and making it somewhat of a game."
"Norton's a really good team and they were obviously going to give us their best shot," Royal Valley coach Kyle Porter said. "They played about as well as they could that fourth quarter and the mentality bend but don't break comes to mind.
"We probably played one of our worst quarters of the year during that time. But we were able to fight through the adversity and finish it out. Those first three quarters we did everything we needed to do to be successful."
Broxterman finished with 26 points and nine rebounds to lead Royal Valley. Hadley Hauser, a 6-foot-2 Norton senior, had only two shot attempts at halftime but scored 10 of her 12 points in the second half.