They were right — it was just like Tuesday when the boys’ basketball team came roaring back to defeat the Whippets.
The Lady Truckers, the No. 4 seed in the Div. II Attica District, knocked off No. 1 Shelby 71-56 to advance to the district championship, where they will take on a familiar face in NOL foe Bellevue
The Lady Truckers started out both halves of Thursday’s game slowly, but were quick to recover.
In the first quarter, the Whippets jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but led 19-12 at the end the period. Shelby opened the second with a three-pointer to push their lead back to 10. That’s when Norwalk turned on the jets, as they went on a 15-2 run, taking a 26-24 advantage with three minutes to go before halftime.
“I was worried there early on,” Norwalk coach Brock Manlet said. “It just seemed like physicality-wise, they were kind of beating us up a little bit on the glass. I knew that was a huge factor coming into the game. The girls were able to get back into the flow of the game.
“We challenged them at halftime to get rebounds. I thought rebounding was the difference in the first half. We did a much better job of that in the second half. I thought Eboni Barbee was huge for us coming off the bench, with her athleticism and also moving people around and getting some big boards for us. I’m just pleased that they responded in a big atmosphere. For them to respond was huge.”
After falling behind again early in the second half, the Truckers responded by going on a 14-4 stint to take a 52-43 lead — their largest of the night at that point. Kaelyn Harkness came through on the offensive end, hitting three treys to help reclaim the lead.
“I just let loose and relaxed,” she said. “I just saw an open opportunity and I took it. It feels amazing, honestly. We knew that we had to come out and do our thing. We were ready to beat them.”
Harkness tallied 17 points in the game, 11 of which came in the third period.
“I think at that point, the game was in the balance,” Manlet said. “You didn’t know which way it was going to go. And then she hits those big shots and at one points got us up by nine. After that we were relaxed and very confident. Once you get confidence, our team is very dangerous.”
Jiselle Thomas finished with a game-high 35 points.
“You expect that from Jiselle, she’s going to get her points. She’s just physically gifted from the offensive end, so she’s going to get her points. Kaelyn’s points were huge, because it provided us another scorer and another person the defense had to go to. It actually opened some things up for other people, including Jiselle. I’m very proud of them on the offensive end. Huge performance from both of them.”
Thomas is just four points shy from scoring 2,000 career points. At this point in the season, any game could be her last.
“When they started to build their lead, all I could think about was that this could be my last game and I know I don’t want it to end,” Thomas said. I love my team so much. That pushes all of us, I think, to play harder. In this season, we didn’t think we’d come this far, but after we started putting in more work and started playing how we should’ve been playing all year, we really saw what we could do.”
Manlet believes that having confidence in the postseason can be a game-changer.
“It’s huge,” he said. “We know who we’re going to have to face. Hopefully the kids are ready. I know they’re ready. We’ve just got to take care of the ball and play with confidence.”
With it being the final year of the Northern Ohio League, Manlet feels that two NOL teams facing off in a district final is a testament to the league’s depth.
“We talked about it on the radio the other day. First and foremost, to have four teams here in the districts is special. To be one of the teams lucky enough to be playing for a district final in the last year, I’m kind of speechless. I’m happy for our kids and happy for our community.”
Manlet said that he has felt like an underdog the whole tournament.
“I told our kids that I kind of like the underdog role. I just want to be the spoiler. For once, people are counting us out and we’ve proved some people wrong. Hopefully we can continue to do that.”
Norwalk will take on Bellevue in its first-ever district championship appearance on Saturday. It’ll be the third time this season the two teams have faced off, but the Lady Red have claimed wins both times. Manlet, though, thinks his team has a chance at advancing to the regional tournament.
“We know what they’re going to do. There are no secrets any more at this time. It comes down to we’re going to have to take care of the ball, handle the pressure and match their intensity, like how we did tonight. I’m just excited for my kids, hopefully we come ready to play.”
Kennadie 2-4-8; Garrett 4-3-13; Barnd 2-0-4; Fidler 5-3-13; Randall 0-2-2; Gurney 4-1-9; Walter 2-3-7. Totals 19-16-56.
Cring 0-4-4; Harkness 6-1-17; Jada Thomas 2-1-5; Jasmine Thomas 4-0-8; Jiselle Thomas 13-6-35; Rodriguez 1-0-2. Totals 26-12-71.
Shelby 19 11 14 12 — 56
Norwalk 12 19 21 19 — 71