“I really don’t know,” Gray said. “And that’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. But I know this … we have great kids, and they will compete. That’s all you can ask out of them. We ask them for an honest effort, and they give us that.”
That opinion perfectly summed up the Truckers’ SBC Lake Division home game against visiting Columbian on Friday at Norwalk High School. The Truckers stormed out to an 18-point lead (27-9) midway through the second quarter.
However, the Tornadoes cut the deficit to a point (57-56) with 1:48 left before the Truckers put the game away in the final 90 seconds of a 64-58 win.
Norwalk improved to 6-3 overland 4-1 in the SBC Lake Division, staying one game behind first place. The Tornadoes fell to 6-4 (3-3).
“Did we make some bone-headed mistakes? Yes, we did,” Gray said. “But we never stopped competing, we never stopped fighting. The bottom line is we did enough to win, and win by six.”
Columbian’s comeback started in the final seconds of the first half. Leading 32-18, Gray was signaling for his team to hold the ball for the final shot. However, a close shot attempt to the basket was rushed and missed, and the Tornadoes’ Cole Zimmerman scored just before the halftime buzzer.
To begin the third quarter, standout LJ Reaves then connected on a 3-pointer, and just like that the Tornadoes had cut the deficit to single digits (32-23) in a 30-second span.
“Right before and right after halftime was a tough stretch for us,” Gray said. “We’re up 12 and miss a short one inside then missed a box out at the other end. It was a seven-point swing potentially, and they had to be ecstatic at halftime to be only down 12.”
After a Reaves basket with 1:25 left in the third, the Tornadoes had pulled to within one possession at 40-37, capping a 19-8 scoring run.
But as they proved the rest of the nine-plus minutes, the Truckers had an answer. Ryan Sowders scored inside, and Will Gehlhausen converted an inside jumper and was fouled. He added the free throw for a three-point play, and Norwalk took a 45-37 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Tornadoes kept coming, however.
After Garrett Chapin put Norwalk ahead 51-43 with 5:32 left, the Tornadoes made their last surge.
Chase Frankhauser connected from deep for his only three points of the game, and the Truckers turned it over against the Columbian pressure, resulting in a short-range basket from Bryce Burns.
The Truckers again appeared to stem the tide, as Chapin and Garrett Obringer scored back-to-back from point-blank range for a 55-48 lead with 2:54 left.
But Logan Beaston quickly responded with a 3, and off another Norwalk turnover, Reaves scored on a driving basket to make it a 55-53 game with 2:10 left.
After an Ian Minor basket down low for Norwalk, Beaston drilled another deep 3 to make it 57-56 with 1:48 left.
But this time, the Truckers were able to break the Tiffin pressure, as Minor was found wide open underneath for an easy basket, then Ryan Sowders did the same after an empty Columbian possession to go up 61-56 with 1:09 left.
The Tornadoes then turned it over on a traveling violation with 46.7 seconds left, then turned it over again with 26.5 seconds left.
Meanwhile, Gehlhausen converted three of four foul shots in that time, pushing the lead to 64-56. The Tornadoes scored as time expired for the final margin.
“Columbian is a very good team,” Gray said. “We did some things a little bit on the run, which is a bit uncharacteristic of our teams. But Will is getting better, I think Ian played his best game of the year, and the two Garrett’s really competed hard inside.
“We did enough to beat a good team at home,” he added. “They (Tiffin) can score in bunches, but we also had too many turnovers in the second half to help their cause.”
The Truckers finished with great offensive balance across the board.
Chapin had 16 points and 12 rebounds on 7-of-11 shooting, while Gehlhausen had 14 points and five assists while sinking 7 of 8 free throws.
Also for the Truckers, Sowders added 11 points, six assists and three rebounds, while Obringer had 11 points and Minor added eight points and five rebounds by making all four of his shot attempts.
“It was a good week of practice, and I think part of that is we’re back in the school routine,” Gray said. “I think like all people, we perform better once you get in that daily routine.”
Columbian won the junior varsity game off the strength of a 17-2 second quarter scoring advantage in a 46-37 win. For the JV Truckers (6-3), Daniel Traczek scored 15 points and Nic Babka added seven.
Norwalk is back in action on Saturday, as it visits Ashland (1-7) in a non-league game.
COLUMBIAN (6-4, 3-3)
Chase Frankhauser 1-0—3; Carson Goble 2-0—4; LJ Reaves 8-4—23; Cyrus Burden 2-0—5; Bryce Burns 4-0—9; Cole Zimmerman 2-0—4; Logan Beaston 3-1—10. TOTALS 22-5—58.
NORWALK (6-3, 4-1)
Ryan Sowders 5-1—11; Will Gehlhausen 3-7—14; Ian Minor 4-0—8; Garrett Chapin 7-2—16; Garrett Obringer 5-0—11; Kyler Lacy 2-0—4. TOTALS 26-10—64.
Columbian 8 12 17 21 — 58
Norwalk 21 11 13 19 — 64
3-point FGs: (TC) Beaston 3, Reaves 3, Burns, Frankhauser, Bundren; (N) Gehlhausen, Obringer
JV: Columbian, 46-37