PAULDING — Kenton picked the wrong night to have a slow start.
Napoleon, known for its defense, held the Wildcats to 12 points in the first half and despite several second half runs, Kenton fell 54-44 in a Division II district semifinal Thursday night.
With the loss Kenton, which was making its first appearance at the district level since 1998, ends its season with a 17-7 mark. Napoleon improves to 16-8 and advances to Saturday’s district final against Defiance in Paulding. This marks the first time the Ladycats have made the district final since 1992.
“I just felt like they came out with a lot more intensity. We just came out slow, kind of lethargic,” Kenton head coach Ryan Miller said. “We have done that a few games in the past and against inferior teams you can afford to do that but Napoleon is a good team. They have a lot of quality players.”
Miller, who came into the game without his starting center, said added depth also played a role. In addition to Napoleon’s solid bench, Kenton was without its starting center who was out with a concussion and several players battling illness.
Napoleon’s tenacious defense was on full display against an undermanned Kenton squad in the first half as the Ladycats opened the game with a 12-7 lead and thanks to seven second quarter turnovers, Napoleon began to pull away. Up 18-12 with under two minutes left in the first half, Napoleon closed out the first half with an 8-0 run to open up a 26-12 lead at halftime.
Miller challenged his team in the locker room at halftime to improve on their defense in order to change the tempo that he said Napoleon controlled with its offense and defense in the first two quarters.
By the three minute mark of the third quarter, Napoleon owned a 31-17 lead and appeared ready to cruise to the easy win. However, Kenton was determined not to end its season without a fight and the Wildcat offense finally began to come alive. Led by Haylee Bushong and Ellie Miller, Kenton sliced the lead to nine, 38-29 going into the final eight minutes
Kenton’s second half surge continued into the fourth quarter as 3-pointers by Kori Barrett and Bushong helped the Wildcats to get within five points. But it seemed like any time the Wildcats made a solid run, Napoleon’s Taylor Strock, a freshman, was their with a bucket of her own.
Strock, who finished with a game-high 22 points, had eight in the final period and all of those points seem to come when Kenton was ready to make a big move.
Bushong finished the game with 13 points and Barrett and Ellie Miller each chipped in 11 points.
Miller, who has seven seniors on the squad, said he was proud of his team not giving up despite the second half double-digit deficit.
“Thank God this is just a game because we would be devastated,” Miller said. “We move on. We learn from this. I look at those girls as my daughters so it is really difficult to say good-bye.”
Defiance 45, St. Marys 35
St. Marys’ second bid to knock off a higher seed fell short as Defiance defeated the Roughriders 45-35 in the district semifinal game Thursday night.
Going into the fourth quarter, Defiance, the No. 1 seed, held a 31-29 lead and the Bulldogs would outscore St. Marys 14-6 in the final stanza to secure the win.
St. Marys ends its year at 11-14. Defiance, 20-4, advances to the district final against Napoleon Saturday in Paulding.
Roughriders Makenna Mele, who scored 17 points and Sydney Cisco, who pumped in 15 points, scored all but three of St. Marys points.
Defiance’s Carolina Turner scored 14 points.
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468.