Orange hasn’t been this good in quite a few years.
And when the Panthers faced their most important test so far this season on the road Saturday, they passed it going away.
Sophomore Lauren Cates came off the bench and shattered her career high with 30 points, including 7-for-9 from 3-point range, leading Orange to a 61-49 win over Northwood in Big 8 3A girls’ basketball.
The result, which broke Northwood’s dominant six-game winning streak in the series, improved Orange to 16-0 and 6-0 in conference play. The Chargers, who had a three-game winning streak snapped, dropped to 14-4 and 6-1.
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Northwood had beaten conference foe Chapel Hill 42-31 on Friday night, while Orange was playing for the first time in seven days.
“Lauren has been doing that in practice and we’ve waited for her to do that all season,” said Orange coach B.J. Condron, whose team was 8-17 last season and had lost five of the previous six to Northwood by double digits. “Hopefully this is a breakout for her.”
He continued: “This was a huge game for us. Northwood has been one of the best teams in our conference for several years and we have not. This is big for our confidence. We have seven seniors, and with the underclassmen we’ve added we’re just a more complete team now.”
Senior Kaylen Campbell finished with 15 points for the Panthers, while Icez Barnett had 10 rebounds to go with her four points.
Kristian Eanes led the Chargers with 19 points, six steals and five rebounds. Kadie Snipes chipped in 11 points and Chandler Adams 10.
Northwood, which went 25-5 last season, has kept its winning ways despite some awful misfortune early in the campaign which saw senior guards Bryn Aydt and Jazanae Billings and junior forward Erika Nettles all lost for the season with ACL injuries.
“B.J. has done a heck of a job and I’m glad he’s doing so well,” Northwood coach Cameron Vernon said. “We were able to force them into a few lower-percentage shots. And we did a good job coming back after we got behind. We have a lot of respect for Orange, and our players know them well. I thought our girls gave a tremendous effort. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t go your way.”
Orange took a 13-10 lead after a hard-fought first period and never trailed again – although the Panthers weren’t really able to escape until the final minute.
“We did a good job staying together as a team,” said Campbell, who will play at Division III Trinity in Connecticut next season. “We hadn’t had a game when we had to struggle this season. The biggest thing we have now is experience. And we had some girls come off the bench and do a good job. This is just a great feeling to have.”
Cates got the Panthers some breathing room in the second quarter, canning a pair of 3-pointers in a 9-2 run that made it 22-12 with 6:23 left in the half.
But Northwood cut the deficit to two at 24-22 on a pair of Chandler Adams free throws with 2:34 left before intermission.
Orange’s biggest lead was 47-33 on Campbell’s 3-pointer with 7:46 to play. The Chargers trimmed it to 56-49 on Eanes’ layup with 56 seconds left, but Cates hit five of six free throws over the final 32.6 to preserve the result.
“We knew we had to jump on them from the start, and fortunately I was hot,” said Cates, whose previous career high was 16. “We knew what we had to do and we did it. We were very motivated because it was a chance to be first in the conference.”
The return match is Feb. 3 in Hillsborough.
“We played well as a team and played hard,” said Eanes, who is headed to Queens University in Charlotte next season. “Coach (Vernon) said he was happy with the way we played. The beginning of the season was hard for us and hard for me. It’s been challenging. But I’m proud of the way we’ve played as a team. Next time we need to make more free throws. We’ll be hungry next time.”
Northwood visits Southern Durham on Monday night, while Orange’s next game is at Northern Vance on Tuesday night.