Norwalk coach Brock Manlet and his team is taking it one game at a time — and the first piece of the puzzle is finished.
Bethany Cring led Norwalk with 18 points and 10 rebounds as the Truckers topped Perkins, 59-39, in Sandusky Bay Conference Lake division action on Thursday, which also gave Manlet his 100th career win.
"We held them to 38 points last time and 39 points this time," said Manlet, referencing a 39-38 win by Norwalk on Jan. 23. "The difference was we scored the basketball tonight. In the second half, I thought we did a nice job of finishing at the rim, where we had missed some of those in the first half."
Norwalk (16-3, 8-1) is faced with having to win four league road games in eight days to win the SBC Lake division title. It travels to Sandusky on Saturday, Tiffin Columbian on Monday, and state-ranked Bellevue next Thursday.
"It is one game at time. We know every game is going to be tough on the road," Manlet said. "We have adjusted our practice schedule to keep us fresh because we are basically playing every other day. We look fresher on the floor than we did in the middle of the season."
Cring missed one game and was limited in Tuesday’s win over Western Reserve. But she had perhaps her best game of the season against the Pirates (12-8, 5-6) on Thursday.
"She was huge. She is definitely key to our lineup," Manlet said of the senior. "She has grown from her freshman year to now and she has had a great year up until this point. She continues to do that and has grown up as a player on both ends of the floor."
A layup by Aleena Winston drew Perkins within 17-16 with 3:12 left in the second quarter, but Norwalk put together a run. Cring, Elena Barber, and Kaelyn Harkness each scored to give the Truckers an eight-point cushion at halftime.
In the third quarter, Jada Thomas completed a three-point play and Harkness scored again to prompt a timeout from Perkins coach Brian Heck. Cring scored twice more out of the timeout, pushing the Norwalk lead to 32-16 with 6:11 left in the third quarter.
"Norwalk played much harder than we did and they played with a purpose," Heck said. "Our purpose, for some reason, was just to get on the floor. Their purpose was to go fight and win — and they did."
Olivia Howard hit a 3-pointer to end the Truckers' run of 15 straight points over 5:25. Leah Malson banked in a jumper from the foul line and Harkness added a three-point play to extend the lead to 39-19 with 4:10 left in the third quarter.
The Pirates made a small run at Norwalk. Maria Schoder split two free throws and Nancy Siegel drilled a triple to get Perkins within 41-25 after three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, buckets from Howard and Winston cut the lead to 45-33 as Manlet called timeout. Norwalk committed one of its 13 turnovers out of the timeout, but the Pirates came up with an empty possession. Thomas hit a jumper, Cring scored twice, and Olivia Ward split two free throws to push the Truckers' lead back to 52-33 with 3:44 left.
"Norwalk played to win," Heck said. "I do not know what we played for. It was disappointing because I know we played well the first time we played them. We had something to prove, but our energy was not there for some reason. It is extremely disappointing."
Perkins made just 2-of-10 free throws in the second half including 1-of-6 in the final eight minutes.
"Some of our shots in the first half seemed like we were worried about getting our shot blocked instead of just finishing," Manlet said. "In the second half, I thought we did a better job of just finishing at the rim. If we make shots, we are pretty tough and tonight, we did that."
Norwalk scored five straight points to take a 13-7 lead in the first quarter and led, 15-8, after one quarter. The Truckers pushed the lead to 17-10 when Barber scored. Three straight buckets from the Pirates — Schoder, Sydney Thom, and Winston — cut the lead back to one point.
Thomas registered seven points and seven rebounds for the Truckers while Malson and Jasmine Thomas each scored six points.
"I thought we executed better tonight," Manlet said. "In the first game, I thought we threw the ball away a lot and had unforced turnovers. Tonight, we did a better job of taking care of the ball and we were stronger underneath."
Jada Thomas added seven points, nine rebounds and five assists for Norwalk, while Barber had 10 points and six rebounds. Harkness added seven points and five assists.