March 03–BUCYRUS — After two decisive losses, there was nothing to lose.
All Norwalk boys basketball coach Steve Gray wanted was a chance late in Friday’s Division II sectional championship game vs. Sandusky.
The Truckers certainly had several chances, but ultimately came up a little short in a 58-53 loss to the Blue Streaks at Bucyrus High School.
Norwalk (14-10) led with 5:30 left in the game, and still trailed by just one possession with under 30 seconds remaining.
Sandusky (16-8) had won the two regular season meetings by 12 and 11 points, respectively, and were never threatened late in either victory.
That wasn’t the case on Friday.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a team play with this much heart,” Gray said. “I couldn’t be prouder of this group of young men. We had a chance, and that’s all we talked about — we wanted a chance, and we had it.”
Trailing 43-37 with 6:59 left in the game, the Truckers scored the game’s next seven points to briefly take the lead.
Brandon Haraway made a pair of free throws, and Jacob Roth connected on a 3-pointer to pull the Truckers within one (43-42). Garrett Chapin then delivered with a pair of free throws to put the Truckers up 44-43 with 5:30 left.
But the Blue Streaks regained the lead on a Keith Williams basket just 26 seconds later, and ultimately never trailed again. After two Matt Neuberger free throws pulled Norwalk within 49-48 with 3:43 left, Sandusky sophomore Tahj Staveskie buried a big 3-pointer from the top of the key.
That put the Streaks up 52-48, a two-possession lead they took into the final two minutes.
But Norwalk had one more run left, as Haraway made three consecutive free throws to again bring his team within a point (52-51) with 43.2 seconds left.
However, forced to foul, the Blue Streaks made sure it was in the hands of Keith Williams, the SBC Lake division’s Outstanding Performer this season. He made a pair of free throws with 41 seconds left to push the lead up to 54-51.
The Truckers then set up a play out of a timeout, and Andrew Ehrenberg got a right corner 3-point attempt, but the shot didn’t fall. It rimmed out and kicked out to Staveskie, who got the ball on the fast break and was fouled with 23.8 seconds left.
The guard made both attempts to put the Streaks up 56-51, and the best Norwalk did was getting it back to three points (56-53) once in the final 20 seconds.
“It was a game where two offensive possessions change it, and two defensive possessions change — and we win,” Gray said. “But I think we at least proved to ourselves as a group that we’re a pretty good team.
“We honestly believed we had a chance to get to the district championship game,” he added. “It’s so well-balanced, and there’s no great team out there. It’s just a lot of really good teams who are well-coached.”
It looked like the Truckers were in trouble once again from the outset. Though they had an early 5-0 lead, the Blue Streaks went on a 17-1 scoring run to open up a 17-6 lead with 7:13 left in the first half.
But Norwalk responded with a lengthy scoring run in its own right. The Truckers outscored Sandusky 15-3 over the next 5:39 to again briefly take a 22-21 lead. Four different players scored in the stretch for the Truckers.
Sandusky led 24-23 at halftime, and 39-35 entering the fourth quarter.
The Sandusky trio of Williams, Staveskie and Dylan Jones combine to average 47 points per game. Norwalk limited them to 38 on Friday, but Denaryon Swain, who entered averaging just 2.4 points per game, broke loose for 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
“Swain really killed us, and one of the things we knew coming in was their role players couldn’t beat us,” Gray said. “We held their top three to 38 points, and I thought we did a pretty good job on them.
“They hurt us with guard on guard pick and roll, which they haven’t done a lot of in the past,” he added.
Haraway was rock solid for the Truckers, as the junior scored 28 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the floor and 14-of-19 at the free-throw line. He also had nine rebounds and three assists.
Chapin added 12 points and seven rebounds.
Norwalk will lose seven seniors from the varsity roster, and will return just Haraway, Chapin and Lacy (six points) from the regular rotation.
Ehrenberg, Neuberger, Jacob Roth, Eric Hull, Josh Welfle and Jack Mei played their final games for Norwalk. The Truckers recovered from a 3-7 start to win 11 of their last 14 games, and played for a league title in the second-to-last game of the season, and a sectional championship on Friday.
“I have no complaints with anything tonight,” Gray said. “None whatsoever. Just so proud of these young men. They’re going to be successful in life.”
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