In a transitional year offensively, the defense at the other end will be relied on more than ever. That was the case again on Saturday, as the Truckers held visiting Keystone scoreless for a stretch of 11:14 over the 16 minutes of the second and third quarters of a 51-45 win.
But still, some issues did pop up as the Truckers improved to 3-1 on the season. They led 42-25 with 51 seconds left in the third quarter, only to see the Wildcats trim the deficit to five with possession of the ball with under 20 seconds remaining.
“We were really, really good defensively — I thought for the whole game,” Gray said of his team, which is allowing 45 points per game through four games. “Our offense hurt out defense tonight. You can’t defend turnovers. They got some turnovers in transition and hit some shots at the end, but it’s a good win for us.
“Keystone has some talented players, and we withstood the flurry and did what we had to do to be successful,” he added.
Norwalk trailed 16-11 with 2:09 left in the first quarter, but closed out the final 1:54 on a 8-0 scoring run to take a 20-16 lead. Andrew Mozina scored first, then Will Gehlhausen and Ryan Sowders followed with 3-pointers — the last one from Sowders with 0.7 seconds left.
Keystone took a 20-19 lead at the 6:42 mark of the second quarter, but then didn’t score again until the 3:28 mark of the third.
In that span, the Truckers were able to put together a 19-0 scoring run for a commanding 38-20 lead. Gehlhausen had the hot hand during the stretch, connecting on three 3-point attempts — including with 0.4 seconds left in the second quarter to beat the halftime buzzer.
Garrett Chapin added five points in the run, while Garrett Obringer also drained a 3-pointer and Sowders scored once.
But leading by 17, the Truckers again struggled with ball handling in the final eight-plus minutes.
Keystone scored six straight points to pull within 42-31 with 7:14 left, then it appeared Chapin restored order with a three-point play with 6:41 left for a 45-31 lead.
But the ‘Cats kept coming, scoring seven straight points to trim the deficit to 45-38 with still 4:04 left to play. Chapin again scored three straight points to push the lead back to double-digits (48-38) with 3:21 left, and it was still a 50-42 lead with 36.5 seconds left after a Gehlhausen free throw.
But Keystone’s Sean Saterlee made his second 3-pointer of the game with 23.4 seconds left, and after another Trucker turnover, the ‘Cats again had the ball. But three straight looks from long range came up short, and Gehlhausen got to a loose ball and was fouled with 4.9 seconds left.
He split the free throws for the final margin of victory.
Norwalk committed 19 turnovers, including 12 in the second half. In a loss at Shelby on Dec. 10, the Truckers had 24 turnovers — which also included a flurry of them late that cost them the game.
“We’re a work in progress,” Gray said. “These are correctable errors, and once again, basketball season is a long journey. We’re better today than we were last week. And we’re going to be better at the end of the season than we are now.
“We’re going to keep working on the things we have control over, and these kids will do what’s expected,” he added.
Chapin was again efficient for Norwalk, scoring 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting to go with six rebounds. Gehlhausen had 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 5-of-10 shooting, which included 4-of-8 from the three-point line. Sowders finished with five points, eight rebounds and four assists.
“Garrett’s not hitting the big 3-pointer or doing anything spectacular like dunking the ball and all of that, but he gets a workmanlike 20 points on 11 shot attempts,” Gray said of Chapin. “He did a great job once again, and Will was solid and had his best game of the year so far.”
In the junior varsity game, Norwalk also improved to 3-1 with a 47-44 win. The JV Truckers were led by Carson Bauman with 10 points and five rebounds, while Drew Shope added seven points and five rebounds, and Aiden Yoder and Nic Babka each had seven points.
Norwalk is off until next Saturday (Dec. 21) when it hosts Willard (4-0) in a solid non-league matchup.
Kollin Rodick 2-1—6; Ethan Sokolowski 4-2—10; Ryan Walsh 1-1—3; Bryan Sayers 6-0—14; Sean Saterlee 2-0—6; AJ Stefan 0-1—1; Konner Rodick 2-0—5. TOTALS 17-5—45.
Garrett Chapin 8-5—21; Garrett Obringer 3-0—7; Will Gehlhausen 5-2—16; Ryan Sowders 2-0—5; Andrew Mozina 1-0—2. TOTALS 19-7—51.
Keystone 16 4 7 18 — 45
Norwalk 19 13 10 9 — 51
3-point FGs: (K) Sayers 2, Saterlee 2, Kol. Rodick; Kon. Rodick; (N) Gehlhausen 4, Obringer, Sowders
JV: Norwalk, 47-44.