HAZELWOOD: A look back at two key wins for Norwalk, Western

Mark Hazelwood • Jan 9, 2019 at 10:25 PM

Twenty-seven​ thoughts for​ the combined margin of difference the Norwalk and Western Reserve boys basketball teams won by last weekend in respective league home games that have both programs in first place ...

1. Norwalk’s dominant 74-55 win over Sandusky that moved the Truckers into a first-place tie in the SBC Lake Division was the program’s best win since ...

2. I’ll go ahead and say since that overcast late March 2014 day in Columbus. At least in terms of league play. Consider that the Truckers had not beaten Sandusky since the state championship season. Ontario won the Northern Ohio League in 2014-15 and beat the Truckers by a combined 20 points. Sandusky has won the last three league titles entering this season, and beat the Truckers by an average of 11 points during the nine-game losing skid.

3. In reality, it was just two points. But the way Brandon Haraway took the opening tip-off and aggressively drove straight to the basket for two points in only five seconds felt like a tone-setter that proved to be worth more than two points.

4. “Brandon is our leader in so many ways,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. “His ability to keep everyone else … he gives his teammates a sense of calmness. When he has the ball, we’re calm. And I think that’s the best way I can put it.”

5. The game almost felt like a must-win, as do essentially all league games for Norwalk after Dec. 14. That is the night the Truckers let a big second-half lead slip away at Clyde in an eventual 61-60 loss. That put them behind the eight-ball in a competitive SBC Lake Division. They’ve answered the bell so far, including Saturday’s resounding win, but there is also a good chance there will be no room for error the rest of the way.

6. Perhaps the most telling statistic in the win over Sandusky was how the Truckers never let their foot off the gas, no pun intended.

7. After falling behind 11-1, Sandusky scored consecutively to get to within 11-5 with 2:56 left in the first quarter. Once Norwalk went back ahead by double-digits at the 1:25 mark of the opening quarter, the Blue Streaks never did get closer than 10 points the rest of the way. The lead was as large as 24 points (49-25).

8. A key storyline entering the matchup was whether or not Haraway would get enough scoring help. That can probably be a question asked most nights, but against a team like Sandusky, Clyde and others, it gets magnified.

9. Norwalk won comfortably because the ‘supporting cast’ contributed much more than Sandusky’s next five players after its top three scorers. The contributions notably from Austin Brown and Garrett Obringer jumped out both in person and on the stat sheet, where they combined for 18 points and 15 rebounds. 

10. The start of the third quarter was certainly rewarding for Brown. Here is a young man who missed all of last season because of an injury, and as a senior, had two straight three-point plays to begin the second half after Sandusky had pulled within 12. It was a big sequence.

11. “At the start of the season I thought we had a chance to be a really good team,” Brown said. “And now everyone is working together and learning their roles, I think tonight shows us we can be a really good team.”

12. Hours prior to Saturday’s game, Ben Haraway, Brandon’s oldest brother and a star from the aforementioned state title team, connected on six 3-pointers and scored 23 points in NCAA Div. II No. 6-ranked Ashland University’s biggest win of the season to date. Hours later, Brandon scored 28 points, grabbed eight rebounds and had four assists.

13. “The 6-of-8 from three that he shot today — I didn’t quite get that, but you know, I just put points up,” Brandon said. “That’s hard to try and top, but … we both just want to do big things for our team and our hometown.”

14. Prior to this Friday’s home game vs. Bellevue, the Norwalk football team will be honored and unveil a state semifinal banner in the gym. As someone who went through it before, Gray was appreciative of what the football team did, which included five of his basketball players.

15. “I’m just so happy for them and proud of what these kids have accomplished this year … it’s why I coach, to be a part of a special group,” Gray said. “And these kids are special. We may not win another game this year, but these kids are fun and great to be around and I’m just enjoying being around them.”

16. In 2019, I’m not sure how big of a believer I am in home court advantages anymore. Not to sound like one of those, ‘it’s not like it used to be’ guys, but I really don’t believe that it is, for many reasons.

17. That being said, one venue that I firmly believe holds a home court edge is at Western Reserve High School. It’s small, the fans are right on top of you on both sides, and it can be a game changer.

18. Especially when the Roughriders in their current offense catch fire from deep. Western will shoot a parade of 3-pointers all game from anywhere and mostly by anyone. When they go in, it creates a home court edge that is hard to come back from.

19. Don’t just take my word for it. Western has won seven Firelands Conference championships over the past 15 seasons, and are alone in first this season following last Friday’s 51-43 win over South Central.

20. “When you're trying to win a league title, you hear that phrase, that you always have to win at home,” Western Reserve coach Chris Sheldon said. “This place has been pretty good to us through the years, and tonight was no different.”

21. The Trojans and Roughriders are the clear front-runners in the FC. It created a fun atmosphere on Friday. Both teams won at home last year and they shared the league title. The two programs are tied with the most FC titles (13) in the history of the conference, and both teams are mostly underclassmen.

22. But younger teams can often be unpredictable. Most small-school leagues are top-heavy more times than not, and the FC hasn’t been an exception. But St. Paul has lost two games in the final seconds and could be unbeaten in FC play entering their trip to Greenwich this Friday. New London and Plymouth boast two of the best scorers in the conference and won’t be pushovers; and this is the best Monroeville team in 10 years.

23. No one within the Western program needs told what can happen when overlooking a team. The Roughriders were upset by Mapleton and Crestview in each of the past two seasons. Trips to both St. Paul and South Central remain, for starters.

24. “It's a huge advantage, but not a nail in the coffin by any means,” Sheldon said. “Last year we had an opportunity to take advantage of their mistakes. We went down to Crestview, the seventh-place team in our league, stubbed our toe and lost. We're hoping we can continue to just stay in the moment.”

25. One week before the South Central game, Western led St. Paul by 19 points in the second quarter. They lost that lead. They led by eight with under two minutes left, and lost that lead before rallying with a last-second 3-pointer by Luke Rowlinson. So when Western went up eight on the Trojans with Simon Blair in foul trouble, it wasn’t a surprise to see Sheldon immediately start trying to burn the clock.

26. “You can't game-plan a whole lot against some of their personnel,” Sheldon said of South Central (8-3, 5-1). “You can mix and match, but in the end, we told our kids if we had any shot of beating this good team, we had to live possession-by-possession and not get to high or too low.”

27. Bottom line, there is plenty of challenges left for both the Truckers and ‘Riders. But as the calendar flipped to 2019, they each picked up the two most important wins to date.

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