Feb. 27–NORWALK — The numbers don’t lie.
Norwalk senior guard Jacob Roth is a different player over the last two weeks. And perhaps no one more than Roth represents the up-and-down season the Truckers (13-9) have endured entering Wednesday’s 6:15 p.m. Division II sectional semifinal game vs. Perkins (12-10) at Bucyrus High School.
“What people don’t know and what Jacob won’t tell anybody is he didn’t practice for almost three weeks at the beginning of the season,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. “His knees were bothering him, and he practiced very little.
“Jacob needs his legs for shooting, to get down in a defensive stance,” he added. “But he got healthy right around Christmas, and he’s a different player now.”
In a last-second 50-48 loss at Shelby on Feb. 9, which snapped a seven-game win streak for Norwalk (7-5 SBC Lake), Roth attempted just three shots and had three points.
But in the four games since, Roth is 17-of-31 shooting from the floor (55 percent) for 48 points (12.0 points per game). That is nearly four full points above his season average (8.2), and the Truckers are 3-1 in those games, with the only loss coming to Lake division champion Sandusky on Feb. 16.
In his final home game last Friday, Roth was 7-of-10 shooting, which included 5-of-8 on 3-pointers, for 20 points in a 53-42 win vs. Bellevue.
Roth’s hot and cold shooting at the start of the season — and limited court time in practice — followed a similar theme for Norwalk as a whole.
After 10 games, the Truckers were just 3-7 — with a chance to tie or take the lead in five of those seven losses in the final two-plus minutes of each game.
Then there was a fiery school board meeting centered around Gray, and a week later the Truckers began a streak that has seen them win 10 of their last 12 games entering Wednesday.
“To be honest, the team stuck together through it — but morale wasn’t high,” Roth said of early January. “But winning is contagious. Smiling and attitude is contagious. We started jelling in practice, we came in here with a smile, we don’t know why we were losing — but something clicked.
“The chemistry just came, and we feel like we’ve got the team we thought we could have,” he added. “It’s a great time to peak.”
Against the Pirates, Gray expects a similar outcome to the first two games.
“I’ll bet it’s a close game,” he said. “(Coach) Scott (McVeigh) does a great job with them.”
In the Dec. 21 meeting in Norwalk, the Truckers rallied from a double-digit deficit and had three different chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute, but came up short in a 49-44 loss.
In the Jan. 26 rematch at Perkins, it was Norwalk letting a 31-22 lead midway through the third quarter turn into a 36-33 deficit with 2:43 left.
But then Roth tied the game on a 3-pointer, then the Truckers regained the lead for good with 1:16 left in a 44-41 win.
The Pirates are led by post Helmut Wheeler, who averages 12.4 points and eight rebounds per game. Jacob Voight averages 10.3 points and Drew McVeigh adds 8.2 per game.
Wednesday’s game is the first tournament meeting between the two teams since the 2014 district championship, won by Norwalk (55-45).
“The good thing about playing Bellevue last is offensively they run a lot of the same action that Perkins’ runs,” Gray said. “So I think we got a little bit of a jump in terms of the flare screens, the cross picks, the picks on the ball, things like that.
“We’re excited, and if we play well, anything can happen,” he added. “But, we have to play well first and foremost.”
Norwalk vs. Perkins tournament history (6-1)
All games Division II/Class AA
1971: Won, 92-79 (sectional semifinal)
1972: Won, 76-70 (sectional final)
1979: Lost, 70-68 (sectional semifinal)
1985: Won, 55-52, OT (sectional semifinal)
2003: Won, 80-53 (sectional semifinal)
2004: Won, 66-46 (sectional semifinal)
2014: Won, 55-45 (district championship)
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