NAPPANEE — NorthWood's Kendal Miller didn't pass up a second chance to be a hero in Tuesday's girls basketball game against Elkhart Central.
Seconds after not shooting when getting an open 3-pointer, Miller got the ball back and drained a critical trey in a 36-35 Panthers win.
Miller's 3-pointer gave NorthWood the lead for good at 34-33 with :34 left in the game. That shot gave the Panthers their first lead of the game since it was 4-3 with 4:46 left in the first quarter.
"We ran the set and got it to Kendal, who was wide open, and she passed on (the shot)," said NorthWood coach Adam Yoder, whose team improved to 4-1. "It came back to her again and she knew she better shoot it that time. We were looking to get the ball to Maddy (Payne) and Kendal on that side of the floor and let them play. The way things were going it was probably good we got a 3 so we could get out of here."
Miller's 3-pointer in the final seconds capped a great fourth quarter for the 5-foot-7 junior. She scored all eight of her points in the final quarter and came up with a steal in the paint with her team leading 34-33 with 4.9 seconds remaining.
"We tried to get the ball inside there, but (NorthWood) packs it in so well," said Central coach Will Coatie, whose team fell to 1-1. "But we'll learn from this and continue to keep growing and keep getting better."
NorthWood, which trailed 29-21 with 7:44 left in the game, tied the game at 29 after getting a 3-pointer from Miller with 2:56 left.
"She stepped up and made shots when we needed her to," Yoder said about Miller. "She works really hard on her game and her shot and it was nice to see a couple fall for her."
After Miller's steal, NorthWood got two clutch free throws from Payne to take a three point lead.
The final points of the game came from Central's Makaya Porter as time expired.
Miscues and missed free throws cost the Blue Blazers in the fourth quarter. Central had six of its 19 turnovers and missed all four of their free throws over the final eight minutes.
"We're going to work on that, but it's not like we haven't been working on that," Coatie said about his team's free-throw shooting.
Coatie also wasn't happy about his team's defense down the stretch.
"We pride ourselves on our defense and we got outscored 15-9 in the fourth quarter," Coatie said.. "It's just part of the process. Our kids never quit. We led the whole game until the last 50 seconds or so. Credit goes out to our kids for a gritty effort."
Central showed plenty of grit on defense, as the Blue Blazers forced the Panthers into 24 turnovers and 38-percent (10-of-26) shooting. The Blue Blazers finished with 13 steals, with Yiesha Williams leading the way with five.
"They're really, really solid defensively," Yoder said. "They get after you really hard. We weren't as poised maybe as we could have been early in the game. But I thought in the second half it wasn't turnover problem for us. We just couldn't make shots.
"But, overall, it's a great win. All wins are hard to get."
Aggressive defense also led to foul trouble for Central. Starters Abbey Miller, Williams and Porter each picked up a third foul in the second quarter. Williams had eight points and Porter had five before they had to sit. With those key players on the bench, Central saw its 18-10 lead shrink to 20-18 going into halftime. Alea Minnich's 3-pointer for NorthWood with :11 left gave the Panthers some momentum going into halftime.
"We got into some foul trouble early so we had to manage that," Coatie said.
Payne scored 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Panthers, who outrebounded the Blue Blazers, 26-16.
Williams totaled 10 points and Daneen Swanson and Porter each added nine for Central.
NORTHWOOD 36, ELKHART CENTRAL 35
CENTRAL: Daneen Swanson 4 1-3 9, Michaela Whitaker 1 0-0 2, Yiesha Williams 5 0-2 10, Abbey Miller 0 0-0 0, Julee Miller 1 0-0 3, Makaya Porter 4 1-2 9, Morgan Hurt 1 0-1 2. Totals: 16-35 (.457), 2-8 (.250), 35.
NORTHWOOD: Maddy Payne 3 6-8 12, Kate Rulli 1 2-2 4, Karlie Fielstra 1 1-2 4, Alea Minnich 2 2-2 7, Kendal Miller 3 0-0 8, Bre Wise 0 1-2 1, Reagan Hartman 0 0-0 0, Emma Martz 0 0-0 0. Totals: 10-26 (.384), 12-16 (.750), 36.
3-point goals: Central (1) - J. Miller; NorthWood (4) - Miller 2, Fielstra, Minnich. Rebounds: Central (16) - Williams 3, J. Miller 3; NorthWood (26) - Payne 12. Turnovers: Central 19, NorthWood 24. Steals: Central (13) - Williams 5, A. Miller 3, Porter 2; NorthWood (8) - Minnich 4, Payne 3. Total fouls: Central 16, NorthWood 12. Fouled out - none. Records: Central 1-1, NorthWood 4-1. JV: NorthWood 28, Central 21.