Jan. 23—MIDDLEBURY — The Northridge boys basketball team had lost four in a row coming into Saturday's game — three of those in painfully close ways.
A blown lead in the final minute against Lawrence Central on Dec. 29, another one down the stretch against NorthWood on Jan. 14 and a comeback attempt that fell short in overtime against Penn this past Tuesday had the Raiders thinking 'what if' afterwards.
They didn't have to think that after Saturday's game against Mishawaka.
This time around, Northridge closed out a tight game, beating the Cavemen 59-53 to improve to 4-9 overall and 1-3 in Northern Lakes Conference play. Mishawaka had tied the game at 47 with 3:49 remaining before the home team closed on a 12-6 run.
"I was stoked that our guys sucked it up, hit free throws when they needed to and made stops and rebounds there at the end to not give them second chances," Northridge coach Scott Radeker said. "The game got very chaotic ... When you haven't won a close game yet, you can't help but have doubt in the back of your mind — maybe the kids had that, I don't know. But the kids made the plays when we had to this time, unlike some of the other times we've played."
It was a fast start to the game for the Raiders, hitting three '3's' in 2:01 to quickly go up 9-0. Junior Nolan Bales hit two of them, while senior Malachi Campbell made the other sandwiched around Bales' shots.
"We've got a good shooting team again this year, but this year's team, it's all (mental) because we shoot it really well in practice," Radeker said. "We just need it to transfer to the game. I thought Nolan Bales hit a lot of big shots for us, and that should be a great confidence boost for him."
Campbell and Bales ended up being the top two leading scorers for Northridge in the game, with the former finishing with 16 points and the latter 14.
Mishawaka (8-3, 2-1 NLC) slowly chipped away at the Northridge lead from there, making it an 18-12 lead for the Raiders after the first quarter.
Northridge then built its biggest lead of the game, 27-16, with 5:26 remaining in the second quarter, prompting a Caveman timeout. Whatever acting head coach Tyler Dendy said in that break worked, as Mishawaka ended the half on a 12-0 run to take a 28-27 lead at halftime. Junior Arthur Jones was the catalyst of the run, scoring the final 10 points of the stretch for his team.
"They got some turnovers, and they got out in transition and scored," said Radeker of Mishawaka's run. "They scored some points on offensive boards, and that's what they do. They get a lot of points on transitions and steals, and we took some quick shots. They were able to get some long rebounds and get out and go."
That one-point margin would be the only time the Cavemen would lead in the game. Twenty seconds into the third quarter, Campbell canned a '3' to put Northridge up 30-28. They then quickly built the lead to 38-30, creating another comfortable cushion.
"I was proud of how we came out in the third quarter and went on a run on them," Radeker said. "We executed defensively; we got the stops that we needed. We hit a couple shots early. ... we'll take that start to the second half anytime."
Northridge would lead 45-37 going into the fourth quarter. They would go up 47-38 early in the frame before Mishawaka countered with a 9-0 run to tie it at 47. On the Raiders' next possession, though, senior Micah Hochstetler took a pass from Bales and drilled a '3' to put Northridge back up three. Mishawaka would cut the deficit to as little as one after that, but the Raiders made enough plays down the stretch to hold on for the win.
Also scoring for Northridge was senior Blake Jacobs with 12 points, Hochstetler 11, Noah Zmuda four and Caden Mack two. Jones led all scorers from Mishawaka with 22 points.
While it's been tough treading for Northridge in the first half of the season, Radeker knows his team keeps on improving. He's hoping Saturday's victory parlays into more wins in the final six weeks of the regular season and beyond.
"We're starting to groove at the right time, and that's what I keep telling our guys," Radeker said. "Record aside, nobody sees what we do during the week. This group has an amazing attitude. They're coachable, they take constructive criticism, they take getting in your face. We're getting better every single day in practice. We've got a way to go still, but we're on the way up."
Northridge next plays this Friday, Jan. 28 at Plymouth.
Austin Hough can be reached at email@example.com or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.