The Lady Truckers (19-5) made a statement in their 60-44 win Saturday over Upper Sandusky at the Monroeville Athletic Complex. And it had four words: We are the champions.
Norwalk never relinquished the lead on the way to being crowned the Northwest District Division II sectional champs.
“I’m excited. I’m really excited,” said a smiling Jiselle Thomas, who exploded for 39 points.
“We’re breaking records,” said the senior, who now stands at 1,961 career points. “Hopefully we’ll keep it going.”
Thomas hit 73 percent of her shots from the field. She also grabbed four rebounds, handed out three assists and made two blocks.
“Obviously, she’s our leader on the offensive end and she put us on her back offensively. The thing is once she gets scoring, we get fired up as a team and we start playing that much harder as a team. It just fed through everyone and it was awesome,” coach Brock Manlet said.
To start the game, Thomas hit her first four shots and her teammates grabbed some quick steals.
The Lady Truckers led 16-4 with 3:11 in the first quarter. The period ended with Thomas hitting a buzzer-beating layup to make it 18-6.
“Before the game, I told them we had to jump out on them early and kinda bring down their confidence and that’s exactly what we did. They kinda came back in the second half, but then we brought our intensity back up,” she said.
Upper Sandusky went on a 13-2 run in the second period and trailed 30-26 with 1:49 until the break — the closest the No. 2-ranked Lady Rams got to the Lady Truckers. Upper outscored Norwalk (No. 4 in the district) in the quarter 21-16, but still were down 34-27 at halftime.
The Lady Rams again narrowed the gap to four when junior Megan Hensel hit her third three-pointer of the game to make it 36-32 with 5:16 in the third quarter. Hensel scored 11 points total.
Thomas was the only Norwalk player to score in the third period. She outscored the entire Upper Sandusky squad 14-11.
During one of Upper’s runs, composure was the name of the game for the Lady Truckers. Thomas said she told her teammates to “pick it up” and play tougher defense.
“I didn’t want it to be our last game,” she added.
The third period ended with Norwalk leading 48-38. The Lady Truckers kept pounding away at Upper, taking a 12-6 advantage in the closing eight minutes.
Manlet said the focus in practice was face-guarding junior Abigail Fogle, who was held to 11 points Saturday.
“We didn’t want her getting a free touch from the three-point line. Everybody was on her,” he added.
Sophomore Marly Geretz and juniors Kaelyn Harkness and Bethany Cring combined to defend Fogle throughout the game.
“All three (girls) did a great job on her,” said Manlet, who was pleased with the man-to-man defense from the rest of the team.
Junior Jasmine Thomas led the Lady Truckers with six rebounds. She also grabbed two steals and deflected at least one pass.
Geretz pulled down four boards and senior Adrianna Rodriguez had two blocks.
“The last seven or eight games we’ve started to pick it up a little bit. I think we’re getting more consistent on the defensive end. The girls followed our game plan to the T. We did a nice job of pressing their guards. We limited Fogle with her touches on the outside. Just everybody bought into what we were trying to do defensively,” Manlet said.
“We thought watching them in person and watching them on film we could pressure them a little bit and get some easy run-outs. Obviously that’s the key to our game — easy run-outs and getting easy baskets. We didn’t trap as much tonight as what we’ve done in the past and that was intentional.”
The Norwalk coach sported the net around his neck when being interviewed.
“Just on Cloud 9. I know it’s just a sectional championship, but it’s huge for our program. We’ve already done some nice things in terms of wins, but the kind of thing that was missing was a nice tournament run. This is the first step. Hopefully we can keep it going,” Manlet said.
Norwalk will play Shelby at 8 p.m. on Thursday at Willard High School in the district semi-final.
Follow Reflector staff writer Cary Ashby on Twitter at @Cary_reporter and on Facebook at “Cary Ashby — reporter & comic book blogger.”
Norwalk 18 16 14 12 — 60
Upper Sandusky 6 21 11 6 — 44
Norwalk: Kaelyn Harkness 1-0-2, Jada Thomas 2-0-4, Jasmine Thomas 3-0-6, Marly Geretz 2-2-7, Jiselle Thomas 16-5-39, Celia Case 1-0-2 — 25-7-60
Upper Sandusky: Alivia Oney 1-0-2, Alexis Fogle 2-0-4, Abigail Fogle 4-3-11, Ayana Getz 3-2-8, Madison McLaughlin 2-1-5, Sierra Carey 1-1-3, Megan Hensel 3-1-11 — 16-9-44