GRAND ISLAND - Friday was not a normal night for Northwest, but for Viking fans the results were comfortingly familiar.
The Vikings struggled mightily from 3-point range but found ways to put up points as Class B No. 4-rated Northwest defeated No. 7 Beatrice 55-40.
The Vikings (18-2) found success inside in the first half, as Kennadi Keezer provided a highly efficient performance, hitting five of her first six shots.
Northwest had four starters in double figures, as the Lady Orange simply were unable to shut down every potential Viking threat.
Northwest coach Mike Herzberg gave his team credit for shifting to 'plan B' offensively after its outside shooting failed to appear.
"Our focus as a team is to give 32 minutes of continuous effort," he said. "We need to be consistent emotionally, physically and mentally. We couldn't get away from them tonight. We did a good job taking what they gave us tonight.
"We did a great job sharing the basketball, and Mackenzie (Brown) made great choices with the ball all night. We had Kennadi inside early and then our transition game kind of picked up."
The Vikings jumped to a fast 6-1 lead, only to see Beatrice respond with a 3-point play from Kim Higgins.
Northwest fired back with a 10-3 run, as Erin Sorahan converted a fast break and Keezer and Brown each hit a pair of short buckets.
As the second quarter unfolded, Northwest went into its maddeningly efficient mode, as the lead went into double digits and, with a rare three to cap things off, settled at 15 points at halftime.
Brown didn't hit from outside, but instead got the assist to Katie Placke on a beautiful secondary break, then got a pair of inside buckets as the Lady Orange struggled to control the Northwest offense.
The second half saw Beatrice (11-9) keep pace with Northwest, yet never generate enough offensive consistency to truly pose a threat.
Things looked good for the Orange as Tori Sutter opened the third period with a three, followed moments later by another from Bailey Zarybnicky.
An inside drive and basket by Beatrice briefly cut the lead to nine, but the Vikings hit a handful of free throws and got a couple of short baskets to push the lead all the way up to 17 late in the third.
The fourth proved to be more of the same, as the Orange found greater success at the free throw line compared to Northwest.
The Vikings shot only seven-of-14 from the stripe, which combined with its 2-of-14 showing from outside the arc, meant that the Vikings needed to be thankful for their ability to get production closer to the basket.
"Our offense comes from our defensive effort," Herzberg said. "Tonight our defense kept us in the game, because there were times our offense was kind of slumping. The girls know they can play defense every possession and the fact that the kids have bought into how important it is is a big reason why we've had the success here over the past few years."
Brown finished with a quiet 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Keezer added 12 points and seven rebounds.
Higgins led the Orange with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
With the regular season winding down, Herzberg acknowledged that it's up to his team to step up to the challenge.
"It's time for us to be our best," he said. "It's getting to be crunch time. The kids have worked hard all season, and I hope we'll be rewarded for that. But for now our focus has to be on us and our next two opponents."
BEATRICE (11-9): Laflin 0-1 0-0 0, Osborne 1-10 3-4 5, Zarybnicky 4-8 1-1 10, Oden 0-4 0-0 0, Jurgens 1-5 2-5 4, Higgins 5-11 8-9 18, Sutter 1-3 0-2 3. Totals 12-42 14-21 40.
NORTHWEST (18-2): Katie Placke 4-7 2-2 10, Sorahan 4-8 1-4 10, Brown 7-16 2-2 17, Rathke 0-2 0-0 0, Kelsey Placke 1-1 0-0 2, Schleicher 0-0 1-2 1, Keezer 6-14 0-2 12, Schacher 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 23-50 7-14 55.
Beatrice ........................... 9 8 13 10 — 40
Northwest ........................ 16 16 10 13 — 55
3-point shots — B 2-12 (Laflin 0-1, Osborne 0-6, Zarybnicky 1-3, Sutter 1-2), NW 2-14 (Katie Placke 0-1, Sorahan 1-4, Brown 1-7, Rathke 0-1, Schacher 0-1). Rebounds — B 26 (Higgins 11), NW 33 (Brown 11). Assists — B 6 (Osborne 3), NW 13 (Brown 5, Katie Placke 3, Sorahan 3). Turnovers — B 18, NW 12. Personal Fouls — B 12, NW 19. Fouled Out — None. Technical Fouls — None.
Offense proved to be a precious commodity for the home team in the boys game as well, as Beatrice broke loose after a close first quarter.
Northwest (6-14) struggled from the field all night long, hitting only 7-of-34 from the field. The Orange got a tough performance from senior Rylee Zimmerman, who hit five-of-six 3-pointers en route to a 22-point night. Northwest coach Ryan Rathke said his team's offensive struggles have been an issue all season long.
"That's been the theme for us," he said. "We had another tough time offensively. As a team, we have to step up and compete better.
"We had a great opportunity tonight and we started the game well. If we execute cleanly and have an 'I'm going to score' mentality, we can do it. I know Beatrice plays good defense, but we made it easier than it had to be."
Northwest controlled a very slow first quarter, holding a 6-4 lead after the first eight minutes. But after that things turned decisively in favor of Beatrice.
Zimmerman stepped up with a bucket inside for a 3-point play, then forced a steal that bounced off the referee's leg that he scooped up for another layup.
Northwest called time, but turned the ball over and saw Beatrice (17-1) score again off a great assist off the high post.
Alec Cromer fired a pass to Ty Bardsley cutting off the right wing, and suddenly the momentum was clearly on the side of the visitors.
Northwest got its only points of the quarter on a pair of free throws from Will Mettenbrink, but the Orange capped the final four minutes of the half with an 11-0 run and were clearly in control at the half.
Beatrice coach Tyler Struck said that the pace of the game played into his team's slow start.
"I think we got the pace up in the second quarter," he said. "The game was really slow early on, and it took us a while to get things at the level we wanted. Hitting some threes helped, but our defense did a nice job of creating opportunities for us.
"Northwest had some big kids in their lineup and we don't match up well with that, so we thought getting ball pressure was going to be important. That worked for us — sometimes a press isn't just about turnovers. We wanted them to have to work to get the ball across half court, and we knew it would take a toll."
Northwest found some greater success offensively in the second half, but much of that came at the free throw line.
Northwest found itself limited as Darrek McNelis picked up his fifth foul in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, and while the Vikings battled gamely to the end, a comeback was simply not in the cards.
"Our defensive effort tonight was pretty good against a great team," Rathke said. "The first six minutes of the game they were struggling, but we gave up a couple of turnovers and that gave them some momentum. Our half-court defense was really good, whether we were running man or the 2-3 zone."
BEATRICE (17-1): H. Zarybnicky 1-4 1-2 4, Bardsley 1-3 0-0 2, L. Zarybnicky 0-3 0-0 0, Zimmerman 7-11 3-3 22, Hartig 0-2 0-0 0, Weeks 2-2 0-0 6, Buss 1-2 0-0 2, Venneman 1-1 0-0 2, Gronewold 3-7 2-4 11, Stuart 0-2 0-0 0, Cromer 2-2 3-5 7. Totals 18-39 9-14 53.
NORTHWEST (6-14): Daws 0-1 1-2 1, McNelis 3-6 0-0 6, Ellsworth 0-1 3-4 3, Schliep 0-4 5-6 5, Mettenbrink 0-4 3-4 3, Glause 0-1 0-0 0, Brown 2-5 2-2 6, Koepp 0-3 0-0 0, Dahlkoetter 2-9 0-0 6. Totals 7-34 14-18 30.
Beatrice ............................ 4 19 13 17 — 53
Northwest ........................ 6 2 12 10 — 30
3-point shots — B 8-17 (H. Zarybnicky 1-4, Bardsley 0-1, L. Zarybnicky 0-1, Zimmerman 5-6, Hartig 0-1, Weeks 2-2, Stuart 0-2), NW 2-17 (Ellsworth 0-1, Schliep 0-2, Mettenbrink 0-3, Glause 0-1, Brown 0-2, Dahlkoetter 2-8). Rebounds — B 23 (Gronewold 5, Cromer 5), NW 24 (McNelis 8). Assists — B 15 (H. Zarybnicky 3, Bardsley 3, Zimmerman 3), NW 5 (Mettenbrink 3). Turnovers — B 14, NW 18. Personal Fouls — B 17, NW 14. Fouled Out — NW, McNelis. Technical Fouls — None.