Using its tractor-like front line to full advantage Tuesday at the Class 2A Carlyle Regional, the Nashville Hornets and Royce Newman plowed through the smaller Wesclin Warriors.
The 6-foot-7 junior had 24 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in a 59-47 semifinal victory and short of a road block or throwing a net over the top of him, the Warriors could never get him stopped.
“That was one of our main strategies coming into the game, just pound the inside,” said Newman, whose 26-3 team — ranked fourth in the latest state poll — reached Friday’s regional championship. “Our plan was to get in the middle and just force it because we knew we were bigger than them. Just overpower them.”
It was a good plan and the Hornets, who finished second in the state last season, executed it to perfection. They jumped out to an 8-0 lead after the opening tip and forced the Warriors (21-9) to play catch-up the rest of the night.
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Wesclin got to within 26-24 late in the first half, only to watch the Hornets close out the half on a 6-0 run. The Warriors got as close as five in the third quarter before Nashville pulled away down the stretch.
Nashville will face the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal game between Central and Mater Dei in the regional championship at 7 p.m. Friday.
“In order to win, we were going to have to make 3-point shots,” said Wesclin coach Brent Brede, whose team was 8-for-24 on 3-point attempts. “We felt 10 to 12 (threes) at least in order to be able to win because we were going to have trouble scoring inside. We can shoot, but we didn’t make enough of them.”
Nashville also got 12 points from Daniel Thorson and nine from Dylan Mueller, but Newman was there every time the Warriors tried to make a run. He had 14 of his 24 points in the second half, including eight in the third quarter, during his relentless paths to the rim.
“We’re getting used to expecting that from Royce,” Nashville coach Brad Weathers said. “He had a really, really nice night tonight. Our other big kid, Hunter Cooper had a nice night down low at times, too.”
Nashville rolled out to an 8-0 lead early, but Wesclin kept letting it fly from beyond the 3-point arc and hung close. Justin Goff and Jarad Steenbergen combined for four 3-pointers in the first half.
Goff finished with 13 points and Steenbergen had 11. Newman had one of Nashville’s three 3-pointers in the opening quarter, pointing out to reporters with pride that it was his seventh this season.
“They hit some big shots in the first quarter,” Brede said. “I thought we did a decent job guarding in (then) and they hit some threes that really hurt. The difference is they’re more physical than we are, we gave up some offensive rebounds.
“It made a big difference in the game. Their strength was just too much for us when it came to chasing rebounds and touches in the post at times.”
Down by nine early in the second quarter, Wesclin cut it to 26-24 late in the first half on a shot by Brendan Bernhardt. But the Warriors couldn’t sustain that momentum as the Hornets reeled off the final six points of the half and led 32-24 at halftime.
Newman had 10 points in the first half with the smaller Warriors resorting to fouling him or hoping he missed his shots.
Wesclin missed its first six shots in the fourth quarter, with Weathers saying fatigue could have been a factor after the Warriors fought past Carlyle for a first-round victory the night before.
“Wesclin’s really good,” Newman said. “They’d be probably a No. 1 seed in another regional. That’s how strong our regional is.”