Norwalk had suddenly clawed back in Thursday’s Division II regional semifinal vs. the No. 2-ranked team in the Associated Press state poll, Columbus South.
Once the No. 14-ranked Truckers got within one possession and had the ball in the final 30 seconds — it wasn’t hard to see where the key stretch was in the eventual 61-54 season-ending loss.
With 4:43 left in the third quarter, standout Brandon Haraway scored for the Truckers to give them a 34-32 lead.
But it wasn’t until exactly three minute left that another Haraway basket snapped a 9:43 drought without a field goal. In that time, the Bulldogs (26-1) had gone from a two-point deficit to a 49-40 lead.
“They were just so quick, and we don’t play enough teams during the season to simulate their quickness,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. “We went against six or seven players in practice, but it’s not the same as someone running through a passing lane.”
Still, Norwalk had a chance. The Truckers were down seven (54-47) with 89 seconds left, but got to within 57-54 and had a chance to tie or get within a point.
Norwalk (23-4) also struggled with turnovers in the first half, as it committed eight turnovers — two of which led to breakaway slam dunks for the Bulldogs.
The constant running of defenders at Haraway, an NCAA Div. II Ashland University recruit, was a reminder of a 57-40 loss to Oregon Cardinal Stritch — which plays in a Div. III regional title game on Saturday — back on Feb. 12 in norwalk.
“Their quickness was difficult,” Haraway said. “Them and Stritch are the two most athletic teams we’ve played, and I think we handled it well most of the game. But there were stretches where we didn’t.
“But to come back like that, it just shows the type of character everyone on this team has,” he added. “When we fight through against a team more athletic than us, we’ll get it done. And some way, somehow, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
South head coach Ramon Spears said the game plan centered around trying to wear out Haraway — who was hounded into 5-of-18 shooting. What he didn’t plan on, however, was sophomore Garrett Chapin scoring 25 points on 8-of-12 shot attempt for the Truckers.
We tried to wear them down,” Spears said. “Brandon Haraway is an awesome player. The whole scouting report was to try and wear him down. But Chapin hit some huge shots for them … he had a great game. We wanted to speed them up, but Chapin hit big shots.
“But Haraway, we had to keep going after him, because he was getting whatever he wanted for a good stretch of the game,” he added. “We played better team defense toward the end. Not as great as we have played, but enough to get the win.”
Thursday’s game was Norwalk’s fourth all-time regional semifinal game. The Truckers are now 2-3 overall in regional games.
They fell to Genoa, 72-55, in 1974 and lost to Toledo Whitmer, 40-32, in a Div. I matchup in 2012. That game was later vacated after Whitmer’s use of an ineligible player.
In 2014, the Truckers beat Vermilion in overtime, 87-81, then topped Lima Bath, 54-53, on their way to the Div. II state championship.
Norwalk’s 23 wins this season are tied for the third-most in program history, with all four 20-plus win seasons coming over the past eight seasons. It’s also the fourth time the Truckers were ranked in the final AP state poll.
On top of finishing fourth in single-season points (522) and fifth all-time at Norwalk in career points (1,179), Haraway also ends fourth in career tournament points (187), fifth in career assists (275) and tied for 10th in single-season assists (109).