His Norwalk basketball team had just blown a 9-point lead midway through the fourth quarter of a Dec. 14 game at Clyde. The Truckers even had a chance to tie, only for Will Gehlhausen’s foot to be on the line for the potential game-tying 3-pointer in the 61-60 SBC Lake Division loss.
Exactly three weeks removed from two starters and five of his players competing in a state semifinal football game, Norwalk wasn’t prepared or in basketball shape.
“The kids weren’t ready to play in a big game like that,” Gray said. “Brandon (Haraway) was cramping up, Garrett (Chapin) and Ryan (Sowders) had no legs, and that loss was my fault. Clyde hit some big 3s and we had a chance.
“But the good thing now is everything is normal, and we don’t have any stretches with five games in eight days or anything like that,” he added. “These kids work extremely hard and they deserve what is going on right now.”
What’s going on right now is the Truckers haven’t lost since that night in Clyde. Winners of nine consecutive games, Norwalk (11-2, 6-1) is alone atop the SBC Lake by a half-game over Sandusky (7-4, 4-1).
The Truckers host Perkins (8-6, 3-3) on Friday in a rematch of what of their great escapes of the season. In the first meeting on Dec. 20, it was tied at 26 at halftime, but the Pirates outscored Norwalk by 10 in the third quarter to take a 40-30 lead.
But Norwalk clawed back, eventually winning 50-49 on a free throw by Kyler Lacy with no time on the clock. He was fouled on a rebound putback attempt as time had expired.
With the right mindset, the Truckers certainly won’t be overlooking the Pirates.
“We have to continue playing like we’re in last place,” said Haraway, who averages 22.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.2 steals per game. “We have to play like we have something to prove still — because we do. We know what we have in us, and we just have to come out and compete every night.”
After Friday’s game, Norwalk will play four consecutive non-league games before a huge SBC Lake rematch at Sandusky on Feb. 15.
That includes a stretch of facing Lexington (10-3), Northwestern (12-2) and Oregon Cardinal Stritch (12-3) consecutively in a five-day span. Like Norwalk, all three teams are currently in first place in their respective leagues.
There is little question the biggest turnaround in the area is the Willard Crimson Flashes.
Following Tuesday’s 69-39 win over St. Paul, the Crimson Flashes improved to 11-3 overall. Willard takes a six-game win streak into Friday’s SBC Bay Division game vs. Margaretta — and that alone is more games than it won all of last season.
In fact, the Flashes were 5-17 (3-9 SBC) and 3-19 (1-11) in each of the past two seasons, so they have won more games already this season than the previous two years put together.
Add in a 6-16 season (2-10 NOL) in 2015-16, and the Flashes are just three wins shy of equaling the previous three years put together.
Since going a perfect 20-0 in the regular season (25-1 overall) when all-time points leader Jimmy Langhurst graduated in 2005-06, Willard has had just two winning records in the regular season. It went 16-6 and 14-8 in back-to-back seasons in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
Friday’s game is a key test for the Flashes, who have three losses to tough opponents. Willard lost 73-56 in the season opener vs. Upper Sandusky (10-4), then fell by a point at Margaretta (10-3, 6-2) in the first meeting on Dec. 20.
Willard’s last loss was to Bay leader Vermilion (12-2, 8-0) on Jan. 3.
The Flashes are 5-2 in the Bay Division, and the winner of Friday’s game is alone in second place with four league games remaining.
And then there was two
Less than two weeks into January, and barring an unforeseen upset, the Firelands Conference unofficially became a two-team race.
That is when South Central defeated St. Paul on Jan. 11, 74-70, to give the Flyers three league losses with seven remaining.
Western Reserve (9-4, 8-0) sits atop the FC, while the Trojans (10-3, 7-1) have just the one head-to-head loss to the Roughriders in Collins on Jan. 4.
The ‘Riders host Plymouth (7-7, 4-4) on Friday and Crestview (3-11, 0-8) on Feb. 1, then visit St. Paul (8-5, 5-3) on Feb. 8 before their rematch at South Central.
The Trojans entertain Mapleton (4-9, 2-6) on Friday, visit Plymouth on Feb. 1, entertain New London on Feb. 5 in a rescheduled game — then travel to Crestview on Feb. 8.
A year ago, the home team won each contest as the ‘Riders and Trojans shared the FC title.