After a crushing 61-60 loss at Clyde on Dec. 7, the Norwalk boys basketball team knew it had let one get away. But since then, the Truckers have done what they’ve needed to in four straight wins.
Up next is the chance to move into a first place tie in the Lake Division of the Sandusky Bay Conference as Norwalk (6-2, 2-1) entertains Sandusky (4-3, 3-0) on Saturday night at Norwalk High School.
“I think we’ve gotten better because the kids have worked extremely hard in practice,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. “Basketball, like all sports, is a lot of little things that either make you successful or unsuccessful.
"You have to take care of the ball, stop transition and dribble penetration — and keep the other team off the boards,” he added. “If we take care of those little things we'll be able to worry about the game in the fourth quarter.”
In the four-plus seasons since Norwalk won the Division II state championship, the two programs have traded off. The Truckers won four straight Northern Ohio League championships from 2011-14, while the Blue Streaks have won the last four in both the NOL and SBC Lake.
The Blue Streaks entered this season needing to replace standout Keith Williams, after also replacing all-time points leader Jayrese Williams, among others, from the 2016-17 season.
In Lake play, Sandusky has topped Bellevue (81-58), Columbian (90-53), and on Dec. 22, came out on the right side of a one-point game at Clyde (63-62).
In non-league play, Sandusky has lost to three quality programs. The Streaks lost at Lexington (65-40), and to Vermilion (67-55) and Elyria (74-71) last week in the Elyria Holiday Classic.
Tahj Staveskie has already evolved into the next great Sandusky guard. The junior averages 14.2 points per game. Dylon Jones and Jayden Greene have become solid Nos. 2 and 3 scoring threats for the Streaks. Jones is averaging 16.4 points and Greene 10.2 points per game.
"Offensively, those three are a handful,” Gray said. “I talked to AU (Ashland) the other day and mentioned Staveskie’s name. He's athletic, has grown about two inches from last year and he can get to the rim pretty much anytime he wants.
“Jones hasn’t been quite as sharp as last year yet, and we hope he gets things going after this week,” he added. “Greene has sort of come out of nowhere for them and is shooting 40 percent from the three-point line. They have three pretty good scorers you have to pay attention to.”
That being said, Gray acknowledged those three players are going to get their points. But it’s the players around them in the Sandusky lineup the Truckers must control to be in position to win Saturday’s game.
In a near-upset in a Div. II sectional championship game at Bucyrus last March, the Truckers lost to the Streaks, 58-53, after missing a game-tying 3-pointer in the final 24 seconds.
But in that loss, Sandusky’s Denaryon Swain, a role player who entered the game averaging 2.4 points, broke loose for 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
"We can't let those three go off for 45 points total, it has to be below 35 or 30 and we need someone to step up,” Gray said.
Norwalk is led by NCAA Div. II Ashland University recruit Brandon Haraway. He averages 20 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.8 steals per game.
Also for the Truckers, Garrett Chapin averages 7.5 points and six rebounds per game, while Kyler Lacy adds 7.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest.
Rounding out a solid group of balanced role players, Garrett Obringer contributes 6.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Austin Brown adds 4.8 points, while off the bench, Will Gehlhausen is scoring seven points per game, and Ryan Sowders adds 4.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per contest.
“We know Brandon will get his, but someone like Garrett (Chapin) who hasn't shot well yet, but is getting better ... or an Obringer, Sowders and Lacy has play really well — whoever it may be,” Gray said. “One of those guys has to step up and get us some big baskets and rebounds, or do something special defensively.
“But we’re excited for Saturday and I think it should be a great atmosphere,” he added. “We hope a lot of people with nothing to do on Saturday night come out and support these kids. I told them this week that the community will fall in love with them like some teams in the past. They play hard on the court and make good decisions in the community for most part. They are a likable group of kids.”