But chief among them all was an opponent capable of executing a deliberate pace.
On a night it honored its seniors, and assistant coach Tom Foster for his 50 years of coaching — just one night removed from clinching a share of a league championship — the Norwalk boys basketball team took two-plus quarters to get going.
But once the Truckers got a quicker tempo in Saturday’s non-league game vs. Shelby, they controlled things in a 57-44 win over the Whippets at Norwalk High School.
Norwalk improved to 18-3 overall with the win, and will visit Bellevue on Friday in the regular season finale with a chance to clinch the SBC Lake Division title outright.
The Truckers led just 11-9 after one quarter and 21-20 at halftime — then a sloppy start to the third quarter saw them trail 25-21 less than a minute into the second half.
But an animated timeout by Steve Gray at the 5:49 mark of the third quarter seemed to do the trick. Norwalk responded to its coach by outscoring the Whippets (10-11) by a 33-14 margin over the next 12-plus minutes.
“Shelby had a lot to do with our slow start,” Gray said. “They were so methodical offensively. We’re pretty good defensively, but we don’t want to play it that long. Even though they were deliberate, they didn’t get a lot of great shots early on and we were able to keep it close as we struggled a bit.
“But we settled in, played up to our abilities, and our interior passing was amazing tonight,” he added. “When Brandon (Haraway) gets in the paint, it seems like there is four guys around him, and (Garrett) Chapin and (Kyler) Lacy were really good down low in the second half.”
After the Whippets went up 25-21, Chapin scored twice around a short jumper by teammate Garrett Obringer as the Truckers went back ahead. With the game tied at 27, the Truckers closed the third quarter with an 11-2 scoring run to take a 38-29 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Haraway, Obringer, Ian Minor and Chapin all scored during the run — a theme of the game with the balanced scoring effort.
The Whippets were able to stay within 7-to-9 points throughout the first 4:30 of the final quarter, but the Truckers went on an 11-3 scoring run to put the game out of reach.
Haraway kickstarted the run with a breakaway slam dunk over a Shelby defender, then Obringer and Chapin followed with easy baskets off assists from Haraway. Lacy then got his own rebound putback for two points and the Norwalk lead had swelled to 54-39 with just 1:37 left.
“We got the tempo a lot quicker in the third quarter,” Gray said. “Once we got in a flow, we were in great shape.”
Obringer had 16 points and five rebounds, Chapin had 14 points and five rebounds, while Haraway added 11 points, nine assists, five rebounds and four steals. Lacy also had eight points and six rebounds.
“We’re more than just Brandon, and I think it’s good teams see that,” Gray said. “We have kids with a lot off different skills and I think that’s what makes us pretty good. But the thing we have more than a lot of teams is great chemistry.
“The kids care for each other and they help each other defensively,” he added. “There isn’t a jealous bone in this group and I’m having so much fun with them.”
Gray talked about Friday’s game at Bellevue (6-14, 2-7) and the opportunity his team has.
“Friday is the biggest game of the year for us,” he said. “Bellevue can prevent us from something we cherish, which is winning a league championship by ourselves.
“We’re going to play hard, and we expect (Trey) Ruhlman to play for them, and he’s a very good player,” he added.
Norwalk’s junior varsity team fell to 11-10 after a 38-28 loss to the Whippets. Andrew Mozina had 11 points and eight rebounds for the JV Truckers.
Tanner Stephens 2-0—5; Uriah Schwemley 3-0—8; Cody Lantz 2-0—4; Grant Gossom 3-1—8; TJ Pugh 4-4—12; Nick Amstuz 1-4—7. TOTALS 15-9—44.
Brandon Haraway 5-1—11; Garrett Chapin 5-4—14; Garrett Obringer 6-3—16; Kyler Lacy 4-0—8; Ryan Sowders 2-0—4; Ian Minor 2-0—4. TOTALS 24-8—57.
Shelby 9 11 9 15 — 44
Norwalk 11 10 17 19 — 57
3-point FGs: (S) Schwemley 2, Stephens, Gossom, Amstutz; (N) Obringer
JV: Shelby, 38-28