In late October, Norwalk and Clyde played an epic double-overtime football game that was for a share of the SBC Lake Division championship.
The Fliers won that game, 32-31, on a two-point conversion in a turnover-filled loss for the Truckers on Oct. 19 in Norwalk. Not quite two months later, the two teams met on the basketball court in Clyde on Dec. 14.
This time, the Truckers were up by double-digits in the fourth quarter, and still led 56-47 with 4:43 left. But the Fliers closed the game on a 17-6 scoring run, and Will Gehlhausen’s game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer resulted in his foot being on the line for two points in a crushing 61-60 loss.
It’s been more than a month since that setback, which was played just three weeks following Norwalk’s state semifinal football game.
The Truckers haven’t lost since, winning eight straight games following Tuesday’s 52-39 win at Tiffin Columbian. And now, it’s Clyde on the schedule again this Friday at Norwalk High School.
And it should be no surprise that the game is for first place in the Lake Division. The loser of the Fliers (8-4, 5-1) and Truckers (10-2, 5-1) after Friday will be a game out of first with three league games remaining.
“It makes want to work that much harder to win, because we’ve had those tough losses against them,” Norwalk senior guard Brandon Haraway said. “And us knowing we have the ability to beat them — it hurts that much more to lose those games.”
This year’s close games also came on the heels of the two regular season basketball meetings between the programs a year ago. Norwalk won both of those games, also in the final minute, by scores of 53-48 and 65-61.
“I think we’re similar in a lot of ways,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said of Clyde and Norwalk. “Our communities are similar. They press and trap more than we do — but style of play, the type of kids they have are alike. They are going through a stretch now where they have some very talented kids, and we’re fortunate enough that we have some talented kids. I think both teams just enjoy the competition against each other.”
Norwalk has won eight straight games largely on its defensive play. The Truckers allow 48.5 points per game overall, and 46 per game in the six league games. The next closest league team to that figure is Perkins (7-6, 2-3), which allows 53 points per league contest.
Even the Truckers’ two losses, they allowed just 42 points (at Huron, Dec. 3) and 61 points (at Clyde).
“We know we’re really good on defense, and our defense leads to offense,” Norwalk junior forward Garrett Obringer said. “We know if we do well on defense, we have a very good chance of winning. We work hard in practice and believe in ourselves and do our roles.”
Haraway noted Gray pushes the team hard in practice with regards to defense, notably paying attention to detail.
“We know our on-the-ball defense is good, but we like to work on the help side defense a lot,” he said. “To win eight in a row, it’s been hard work. We haven’t had that many bad practices in the last couple weeks.
“Before this and in previous years, I’ve seen that bad practices lead to losses,” Haraway added. “But we’re a team that likes to compete in practice and the results have been showing in games.”
Still, both Gray and the players know things haven’t been perfect.
In a 74-55 win over Sandusky on Jan. 5, the Truckers led by as many as 24 and saw the lead cut to 12. In last Saturday’s 64-56 win at Ashland, Norwalk led by as much as 21 points in the second half.
On Tuesday, Norwalk led by 16 (42-26) early in the fourth quarter, only to see the Tornadoes get within seven (46-39) before closing the game out.
“We definitely have to learn to stay focused toward the end of the game,” Haraway said. “The fourth quarter our last two games, we let Ashland and Tiffin come back a little bit. We need to finish off the game like we start them.”
Over his last five games, Haraway has put up exceptional numbers in every facet. The NCAA Division II Ashland University recruit is averaging 26.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 4.0 steals per game in that span. He is shooting 40-of-66 from the field (61 percent) and 46-of-55 from the free-throw line dating back to a Dec. 29 win over South Central.
“Confidence has gone up, not with just me as an individual, but the whole team,” Haraway said. “We all know what we can do, and we’re just putting the pieces together and right now we’re getting it done.”
The Fliers are at their best when their 3-pointers are falling, as evidenced by the 10 they connected on in the first meeting vs. Norwalk. Clyde has made 18 threes in its last two games, a pair of wins over Columbian and Perkins.
Derick Harrah (6-feet-4) paces Clyde with 17.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, which includes 22 3s. Cam Farrar (6-2) averages 11.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, while Will Dowling (6-3) adds 10.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest. Farrar has made 37 threes. Also for the Fliers, James Dry (6-0) averages 9.6 points per game.
“If they hit their 3s and beat us up on the boards, I think we have no chance,” Gray said. “It’s that simple. And I’d be really disappointed if we allowed that to happen. But I think it’s going to be a great game and it’s going to come down to who executes in the fourth quarter, and who takes care of the ball and gets it to the right person.”
Norwalk counters with Haraway (22.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.1 steals per game). Garrett Chapin averages 8.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, while Obringer adds 6.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest. Will Gehlhausen (6.0 points), Kyler Lacy (5.6 points, 4.7 rebounds) and Austin Brown (5.0 points) round out the top six for Norwalk.
“It will be fun, and we just believe in ourselves and what we’re doing,” Obringer said of Friday. “We feel like if we all do our jobs, we can win every game we play.”