ELKHART — Northridge girls basketball coach Doug Springer swears he doesn't mind the tough schedule his team has played prior to Tuesday's matchup with Elkhart Central.
The Raiders opened the season with an entirely new starting lineup and faced five teams with a combined 19-3 record, including No. 1 Homestead and No. 2 Crown Point.
But on Tuesday at North Side Gym, the young Raiders outscored Central 16-8 in the fourth quarter and pulled away for their first win of the season, topping the Blue Blazers, 56-45.
"We got back to some old fashioned Northridge basketball down the stretch,'' Springer said. "We moved the ball well, didn't turn it over and then shot free throws and layups in the final few minutes. You can see the girls are learning.
"Saturday against Merrillville, we had an eight point lead with four minutes to and just gave it away (losing by one). But tonight, we kept our composure and kept the lead.''
Trailing by three entering the fourth quarter, Central pulled to within one at 43-42 with 5:25 still to play in the game.
The Blue Blazers had the momentum, but the Raiders didn't panic.
Northridge scored the game's next nine points, culminated by a three-point play from senior Juliana Weaver off a steal at mid-court to give the Raiders a 51-42 lead with 2:47 to play. Weaver actually had seven of the nine points in the run, adding a jumper and three free throws.
"I thought Northridge spread us out with their defense and we lost site of what we were trying to do offensively,''' Central coach Will Coatie said. "But we're young and still trying to find an identity, but I'm seeing flashes out there, we just needed to finish.''
In the final 2:37 of the game, the Blue Blazers hit just three-of-six free throws, while the Raiders' Makenna Knepp had a layup and Colleen Miller drained a pair from the charity stripe to put the game away for Northridge.
Central was just 1-13 from the field in the fourth quarter.
"I was happy with the way (Madison) Wienert and Miller helped push the Central guards a little out of their comfort zone as the game went on,'' Springer said. "They made it tough to get the ball to Porter and (Yiesha) Williams inside.''
Porter was a key in the first half for the Blazers, as Williams picked up three fouls and had to sit with 1:15 left in the first quarter.
Northridge led 17-8 after the first eight minutes, but Central was able to chip away in the second quarter, as Porter scored 10 points, before she was called for her third foul with 1:03 remaining in the half.
The Raiders' lead was 28-22 at the half.
"I was so proud of our girls' effort tonight because they easily could have come apart after Williams and Porter got in foul trouble,'' Coatie said. "But we battled them. Now we just need to keep getting better.''
A 12-3 run early in the third quarter gave Central a 34-33 lead with 4:02 remaining in the quarter – the Blazers' first lead since it was 4-2. But baskets by Knepp and Weaver, followed by a 3-pointer by Weaver, would give Northridge a 40-37 lead going into the fourth.
"A lot of these girls were on our unbeaten J.V. team last season, but they really didn't see a lot of close games,'' Springer said. "I thought the girls seemed more relaxed tonight in tough spots and for the most part, played in control against a good basketball team.''
Knepp led the Raiders with 19 points, while Weaver added 17 and Jaci Walker 15. Weaver was 6-of-7 from the field, while Knepp was 7-of-11.
The Blue Blazers, who fall to 2-2, were led by Porter's 22 points, while Williams added 10.
NORTHRIDGE 56, ELKHART CENTRAL 45
NORTHRIDGE: Madison Wienert 0-0 0-0 0, Colleen Miller 1-5 2-3 4, Juliana Weaver 6-7 4-5 17, Jaci Walker 4-12 6-6 15, Makenna Knepp 7-11 3-4 19, Julia Mantyla 0-2 0-2 0, Erin Mahaffa 0-0 0-0 0, Brylee Froman 0-0 1-2 1, Kayla Pippenger 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 18-37 15-21 56.
CENTRAL: Julee Miller 1-3 0-0 3, Makaya Porter 7-13 8-13 22, Michaela Whitaker 0-2 0-0 0, Abbey Miller 1-2 2-3 4, Yiesha Williams 4-14 2-4 10, Daneen Swanson 2-6 2-4 6, Morgan Hurt 0-1 0-0 0, Hannah Teich 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-40 14-24 45.
3-point goals: Northridge (5-12) – Knepp 2-4, Miller 1-4, Weaver 1-2, Walker 1-1; Central (1-6) — J. Miller 1-2. Total fouls: Northridge 20, Central 17. Turnovers: Northridge 12, Central 15. Records: Northridge 1-5, Central 2-2.