One of two seniors on a Truckers team with only four upperclassmen, her team already has more losses than they’ve had in each of the previous two seasons. But on Friday against a bigger Sandusky team, that young Norwalk team scrapped and found a way to pull out a 34-32 Sandusky Bay Conference Lake Division win after trailing by six points with less than four minutes to play.
Elena Barber sank the front end of a pair of foul shots with 22 seconds remaining, providing what was the game-winning point. Lindsey Koenig then split another pair with two seconds left after the Blue Streaks’ Marissa Esposito missed a runner in the lane before a pair of Da’Shanti Miller free throws bounced off of the rim.
“The start of the season has been really rough for us. We lost a lot of seniors, and really new and inexperienced,” said Horner, who scored a team-high 15 points for the Truckers. “But in practice we work really hard together and we’re learning to play with one another each day.
“This feels awesome. Especially to win a conference game.”
Sandusky (3-5, 1-3) led 25-22 entering the final quarter and increased its advantage to 30-24 with 4:22 left on a second-chance outback inside by Esposito. Esposito scored a game-high 16 points and had 10 steals for the Blue Streaks, who had 19 as a group.
Then Norwalk (2-7, 1-3) started chipping away. Barber scored inside to cut the deficit to four, then Jalen Jubak scored her only two points of the game off the bench when she jumped a Sandusky before taking it all the way for a layup to make it 30-28 with 2:12 to go.
After a Streaks’ turnover, Koenig found Horner inside for a layup to tie the game with 2:10 on the clock.
The Truckers were forced to run around and switch on defense for nearly a minute and a half at the other end. But Sandusky couldn’t find an opening to attack and Alex Nolan and Horner combined for a big steal with 47 seconds left. Horner was fouled on the play and sank both shots for a 32-30 Norwalk lead.
Esposito quickly countered with two free throws of her own to even the game at 32-all with 32 seconds to go. Following a timeout, Nolan, one of the smallest players on the court at 5-foot-3, split the Streaks’ defense and found Barber inside to draw what would become the game-winning shot.
All of this happened after the Truckers spent most of the first 12 minutes of the second half turning the ball over. Norwalk finished with 28 turnovers, including 13 alone in the final two quarters.
“(Sandusky) upped the pressure, which was something we talked about at halftime. We knew they’d come out aggressive” Truckers coach Brock Manlet said. “We just made some careless passes. We weren’t being aggressive against their pressure.
“Those last four minutes, we finally started attacking and got some easy looks, got fouled and cut to the basket. That was the biggest difference. We decided to finally be aggressive against their pressure.”
Senior Paige Maurer pulled down 10 boards and junior Skylarr Story had seven.
“I thought going against that kind of aggressiveness that Sandusky brings was good for us,” Manlet said. “That’s one thing we’ve struggled with is matching the other team’s intensity, and tonight we did that. We knew we had to be physical and aggressive. (The Blue Streaks) brought out the best of us tonight. This was the first time we put four quarters together being that aggressive defensively.”
Sandusky shot just 10 for 51 from the field and had 24 turnovers of its own.
“Our focus was to contain Esposito, which we did,” Manlet said. “We knew they ran a lot of ball screens with her and she’s a good player. Then our other focus was to limit the post touches because they have a lot of height and size.
“I’m just very proud of my girls for the way they played defense.”
While Horner was the lone Trucker in double figures, Nolan added four assists and three steals.
“The young girls work hard. They have a lot of room for improvement yet, but this is huge for them,” Horner said. “This will be a big confidence-booster for them. The things they did tonight are things we need from them every game, so it was nice to see them step up and do those things tonight.”
NORWALK (2-7, 1-3)
Masci Horner 4-4—15, Lindsey Koenig 0-2—2, Elena Barber 2-1—5, Janel Jubak 1-0—2, Paige Maurer 1-1—3, Alex Nolan 0-1—1, Skylarr Story 3-0—6. TOTALS 11-9—34.
SANDUSKY (3-5, 1-3)
Marissa Esposito 3-8—16, Mikayla Kelley 1-1—3, Tori Randleman 1-0—2, JaNeece Lee 0-1—1, Da’Shanti Miller 5-0—10. TOTALS 10-10—32.
Norwalk 12 4 6 12 — 34
Sandusky 10 8 7 7 — 32
3-point FGs: (N) Horner 3; (S) Esposito 2
JV: Norwalk won, 38-20.