But senior members of Norwalk girls basketball team seemingly did it with ease Tuesday night. A 10-minute introduction and video presentation for the final home game for eight seniors who have been a part of 61 wins and counting brought many tears.
But moments later, the Truckers (15-3) roared out of the gates to a 30-12 lead in the first half in a 58-39 non-league win over visiting Western Reserve (14-3) at Norwalk High School.
“I think it was just the excitement of the crowd and the images they played on the videoboard — it was a lot at once,” said senior Leah Malson, who scored 11 points. “I wanted to play for everyone else. It’s really easy, because this is a team that is great at keeping a positive attitude amongst each other.”
Norwalk led 7-1 barely two minutes into the game, thanks to baskets from Kaelyn Harkness, and Jasmine and Jada Thomas. Those three seniors along with Malson scored the final nine points for Norwalk in its lone district title game last season in a 34-32 win over Bellevue.
It was a 17-10 lead after one quarter — and then the Truckers turned it on even more in the second.
After Cora Wyers pulled Western to within 19-12 with 5:29 left in the half, the Truckers reeled off 11 straight points to open up a 30-12 lead they took into halftime.
It was again Malson, Jasmine Thomas and Harkness starting the run, while reserves Olivia Ward and Elena Barber finished it off with four points.
At the half, Western was just 4-of-20 shooting with 11 turnovers, and scored just the Wyers basket in the second quarter.
“Norwalk’s pressure was great, and that’s always been their style,” Western Reserve coach Laura Pierson said. “We were trying to prepare for that and we knew it was coming, but it’s all about decision-making at that point. We challenged them at halftime to do a few things better with that, and I thought they responded in the second half.
“But Norwalk was on fire tonight,” she added. “They had their juices flowing early with their seniors, they looked really good. You really can’t take anything away from that, because they looked so good.”
western was able to trim the deficit to 15 (37-22) after a Brooke Ommert basket with 4:46 left in the third quarter, but drew no closer as Norwalk held a 28-27 scoring edge in the second half.
Norwalk got 12 points each from Jasmine Thomas and Harkness, with Malson adding 11. Jada Thomas added six points and five rebounds, and Barber had seven rebonds.
“It’s tough. Every senior night is like that, and it’s easy for those emotions to carry over a little bit,” Norwalk coach Brock Manlet said of the pregame festivities. “It’s kind of draining on a girl to have an emotional night like that. But I thought once we got into the game, we were able to flip the switch and get back to business.
“It was a big win for us,” he added. “Bethany (Cring) being on the bench and able to play I think gave us a lift. These girls are special. They don’t look too far ahead and take care of business each game. I’m lucky to have a group like that.”
For Western, which can clinch the Firelands Conference title outright on Thursday with a home win over New London, Wyers had 13 points and 10 rebounds. Andrea Robson added nine points.
“We’ve got some things we need to battle through, and this was a great test for us going into the tournament,” Pierson said. “The timing is perfect. We had a tough loss in December to Margaretta, and we pored over that film and improved. We will do the same thing with this game and improve. We need things like this to grow.”
Meanwhile, Norwalk now begins a three-game SBC Lake division stretch in five days — all on the road. The Truckers visit Perkins on Thursday, Sandusky on Saturday and Columbian on Monday. They likely need to win all three to force an SBC Lake title game in the regular season finale at state-ranked Bellevue on Feb. 15.
“We know the stretch that we have, and we know it’s going to be tough,” Manlet said. “We just have to play our style and hope it’s good enough.I’m proud of my girls because that is a quality Western team.
“For us to play as well as we did against a team that can score like they can is big,” he added. “If we continue to do that, we’re going to give ourselves a chance every night.”