Da'Vontaye Merritt scored 29 points on Monday to lead North Platte Community College to a 82-53 victory over Southeast Community College to win the region championship at the McDonald-Belton Gymnasium."I can't say enough about our inside game," NPCC coach Dick Thurin said. "I knew we could go inside on them with Da'Vontaye and Paige (Hasty), but not like that. Da'Vontaye had as good of a performance as I think I ever seen."
Both teams got off to a fast start and they traded basket for the first five minutes. But about eight minutes in, NPCC was able to consistently get stops on defense.
This led to a big run for the Lady Knights in which they went up 26-15 on Paige Hasty's layup with a little less than nine minutes left in the first half.
"We just had to take away the middle from them," said Thurin. "Coach (Nolan) Collins does a great job of coaching our defense and he came up with a great gameplan to take away the middle for us."
Southeast went on a run of their own and cut the lead to six points or so. The Storm trailed 38-31.
But the Knights owned the second half. Merritt opened with a pair of made free throws and then Jordan Dickerson made a three-pointer to give NPCC a 12-point lead.
From there, NPCC did not let up. The lead grew to 20 with a little under 14 minutes left in the game when Nadia Crisp scored on a layup with an assist by Hasty. The Lady Knights led by as much as 31 before closing the game out.
"I knew our defense was going to be key in the second half," Thurin said. "They like to drive to the basket and at the start of the game, we didn't do as good of a job against them. But we did better as the game went along."
On Sunday, the Knights will host the winner of Region 13 for the district championship.
The win over Southeast gives the Lady Knights their second Region IX Division II championship in three years.
In 2011, NPCC also defeated Southeast in the region finals. In the district championship, they went to North Dakota and defeated the Dakota College at Bottineau by one point to qualify for the National Tournament in East Peoria, Ill.