"Together" is usually the word used by the Newton girls basketball team when it breaks a huddle.
And "together" was how it sent its seniors out on Thursday night.
Eight Cardinals recorded points and helped keep Knoxville at bay during a 51-39 Senior Night victory that ensured the team's seven seniors finished their home careers on top.
"We knew it would be a much different Knoxville team than what we saw the first time," Newton coach Brandon Sharp said. "They've been playing fairly well and I knew it would be a dogfight, so it was nice to see us play the way we did."
The crowd was fired up from the very start as Sharp trotted out a slightly different starting lineupthan usual for the game. Among the new starters were seniors Amanda Richtsmeier and Micaela Sciarrotta, the later of which scored the Cardinals’ (8-12, 3-8 Little Hawkeye Conference) first basket of the night and got the crowd on its feet. Even with the strong start, however, Newton actually trailed 12-11 after the first quarter.
“Those two seniors have been with the program all four years, so they deserve as much recognition as anybody else,” Sharp said of Richtsmeier and Sciarrotta. “I wanted to make sure to give something back to them.”
Newton made what turned out to be a decisive run at the beginning of the second when senior Michelle Marquis knocked down a 3-pointer and fellow senior Kristin Samson scored on back-to-back steals to give the Cards a 17-12 lead that they wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the game. A basket from sophomore Sarah Kalkhoff and two late free throws from senior Kaylie Rhoads put the Cards up 23-16 at halftime.
Things only got better in the third quarter as Newton began to heat up from outside. Marquis hit two 3-pointers in a short stretch and fellow senior Katelyn Camp nailed another not too long after. The Cardinal defense also kicked in and held the Panthers in check in the closing minutes of the quarter.
“We do not run plays for threes,” Sharp said with a laugh. “That was a little improv, but we can be a good outside shooting team at times. I don’t mind as long as they take them with confidence.”
“There were open shots and we just hit them,” Marquis added. “This was exciting and it was a definite confidence booster.”
Knoxville made its biggest run of the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter to pull back to within five points, but a Marquis trey and three-point play by Samson restored order for the Cards. Newton went on to hold the ball for about a minute on one possession due to offensive rebounds, and Rhoads finished it off with a layup to effectively end game.
The senior class of Rhoads, Marquis, Camp, Samson, Sciarotta, Richtsmeier and Anna Latcham were honored with a ceremony following the game and the ringing of the victory bell. Despite dealing with multiple coaching changes, the senior class also put together one of the program’s better stretches at the end of last season. Although Sharp has only coached them for two seasons, he acknowledged the effect this year’s class could have down the road.
“This senior class has meant a lot to this program. Sticking with it for four years is a testimony to their character,” Sharp said. “They haven’t been easy years with coaching changes, and especially the last two with how hard we’ve pushed them. They’ve really set the tone for our underclassmen, and I’m really excited about what they’ve done and they’ll do in the future.”
“It’s been tough. We’ve been through a lot,” Marquis said. “But this is definitely the best we’ve bonded and worked together. We knew coming in that we could be a good team, and we’re getting there.”
The Cards will wrap up regular-season and conference play Friday at Pella.
Newton 51, Knoxville 39
K — 12 4 9 14 — 39
N — 11 12 11 17 — 50
K — Cunningham 14, Hall 12, Wallace 6, Chambers 2, Hunt 2, Kendall 2, Lenger 1
N — Marquis 14, Rhoads 10, Samson 9, Camp 5, Gray 4, Kalkhoff 4, Sciarrotta 4, Richtsmeier 1