Looking like a state-ranked team that had won the final seven Northern Ohio League titles entering this season, the Lady Red turned away Norwalk at every key moment of Tuesday’s 51-36 win.
The game was for sole possession of first place in the Lake division of the Sandusky Bay Conference. Bellevue improved to 12-1 overall (6-0 Lake), while Norwalk fell to 9-3 (4-1).
Bellevue jumped out to a 19-9 lead early in the second quarter. The Truckers got within four points on four different occasions after that, and still trailed by five with 6:20 left in the game.
But the Lady Red never let the game get closer, and outscored Norwalk 14-4 over the final six minutes.
“It seemed like every time we got a basket to get within four or five, we either had a defensive breakdown and they got an open three, or an offensive rebound to put it back up,” Norwalk coach Brock Manlet said. “It just seemed like we could never get that momentum continuously. They always had an answer for it, which is what good teams do.
“I told the girls I was proud of their effort, but there will be some things on film to watch and get better with,” he added. “If you make a mistake against a good team like that, they are going to capitalize on that — and really I thought that was the difference tonight. Every time we made a mistake, they made us pay.”
Down 22-15 late in the first half, Olivia Ward hit a 3-pointer to pull Norwalk within 22-18 with 1:22 left in the second quarter. But Casey Santoro immediately answered with a pair of free throws, and the Lady Red took a 24-18 halftime lead.
Jasmine Thomas opened the second half with a short jumper for the Truckers, but again Bellevue put together back-to-back scores by Casey Santoro and Payton Vogel to push the lead up to 28-20 at the 5:24 mark of the third.
Norwalk again responded with a pair of baskets to pull within four, but Cory Santoro made her first field goal of the game after a tough shooting first half for a 30-24 lead.
Norwalk pulled within four one last time (30-26) with 1:10 left in the third — but Cory Santoro drilled a 3-pointer and it was 33-28 margin heading into the final eight minutes.
A running layup by Kaelyn Harkness kept Norwalk to within five (37-32) with 6:20 left — but just 15 seconds later, Cory Santoro made back-to-back 3-pointers in a 35-second span to put the game out of reach at 42-32.
“I thought at halftime we had been taking good shots, maybe forced a few up,” Bellevue coach Kory Santoro said. “But it came down to we started making our perimeter shots. Cory hit a few nice baskets to break away there. It was a matter of buckling down on defense and making some shots.”
The importance of Tuesday’s win wasn’t lost on Kory Santoro.
“We had to have this one. On the road, last game of the first round of league play … it was important to get a win over here,” he added. “It was a nice crowd, and Norwalk has a nice team and Brock has them well-prepared all the time. This wasn’t an easy one to get.”
After an 0-of-10 start shooting, freshman Cory Santoro finished with 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting — making her last six shots of the game. Casey Santoro finished with 23 points , while Vogel had seven points and eight rebounds.
For Norwalk, Harkness finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists. Bethany Cring added eight points, and Jasmine Thomas added seven points and six rebounds. Ward finished with six points and seven boards.
“It’s a big game, but it can’t affect what we do from here on out,” Manlet said. “If we let this loss become two or three, then we’ll be out of the race real quick. We just have to get back to practice, refocus and take care of the rest of the teams in our league.”