“We can say that, yeah,” Norwalk senior Austin Brown said with a smile.
Norwalk had led by as much as 12 in the first two-plus quarters of Friday’s Division II sectional championship game vs. Perkins at Willard High School.
But the Pirates, who lost the the Truckers twice in the final seconds in the regular season, had cut the deficit to 28-25 and had possession of the ball.
That’s when Brown made a steal and broke toward the basket with a one-on-one situation looking for the easy two points. The shot just rimmed out — but senior teammate Brandon Haraway was there for a thunderous putback dunk a the 5:08 mark of the third quarter.
That sequence sparked a 12-4 scoring run, and allowed the Truckers to regroup and cruise to a 59-41 win over the Pirates.
With the win, Norwalk (21-3) — ranked No. 14 in the final Division II Associated Press state poll — advanced to Wednesday’s 8 p.m. district semifinal vs. Ontario (16-8) at Mansfield Madison. The Truckers topped the Warriors on Jan. 26 in Norwalk, 62-44, but Ontario has won 10 of 11 games since.
Though the Pirates responded with a basket by Joe Printy to cut the deficit back to three points (30-27), Norwalk closed out the third quarter with 10 of the final 12 points to build a 40-29 lead.
Haraway had a driving layup after another Perkins turnover, then Ian Minor scored consecutively inside — the last on a well-executed one-handed zip pass inside from Haraway that brought the home crowd to its feet with 1:58 left in the quarter.
Obringer and Minor then closed the quarter with two more easy baskets off assists from Haraway — who finished the game with 20 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.
“They were getting to their spots and I was finding them,” Haraway said of his teammates. “If they get to their spots, I’m going to find them. It’s just part of my job.”
“It’s tournament time, you have to take it to a new level now,” he added. “It’s a new type of energy we’re bringing to try and play as many games as we can.”
Haraway did not attempt a free throw until the fourth quarter. He opened the final eight minutes with two foul shots, then Obringer and Kyler Lacy scored consecutively to put the Truckers up 46-31.
Zach Voight made a 3-pointer and Printy again scored inside to bring the Pirates within 10 (46-36), but the Truckers closed the game out from there.
Haraway found Obringer open on the left wing for a 3-pointer, then made six consecutive free throws to put Norwalk up 55-37.
As has been the case all season, Norwalk’s defense came through in a big way.
The Pirates finished with less field goals (14) than turnovers (17). Isaac Grude, who has scored 37 points in his last two games, was held to one field goal for three points.
Sam Siegel (11.5 points per game) scored seven, and Drew McVeigh (9.1) was shut out — and did not attempt a shot until 1:05 left in the game.
“(Assistant) Coach (Tom) Foster says defense travels, but offense you have ups and downs,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. “But I thought defensively we were really good tonight.
“That slam dunk was big by Brandon because we were able to push it out right away,” he added. “I thought that was the difference. Once they made their run, we were immediately able to respond and settle down and do what we do.”
In the first quarter, Norwalk played perhaps its best offensive quarter in 24 games. The Truckers were 10 of 12 from the field with six different players scoring — including big 3s off the bench from Will Gehlhausen and Ryan Sowders.
“We were very efficient in the first quarter, and that allowed us to relax, and for the most part took away their ability to control tempo,” Gray said. “Once we got the tempo we were in pretty good shape.”
Perkins coach Scott McVeigh knew right away it was going to be a tough challenge, but also pointed to the last five minutes of the third quarter as the difference.
“We got the ball in our hands, chance to score — and give up two layups at the other end,” he said. “That’s a huge momentum swing. We go down 11 going into the fourth quarter with them having the ball, it was huge. Turnovers hurt us all night and they shot it really well early.
“Everything is magnified in the tournament, especially against a team like that, which won’t make many mistakes,” McVeigh added. “That makes it tough. Norwalk is very good. They were the No. 1 seed in our district with 21 wins for a reason. They are very good.”
Chapin added 10 points and six rebounds for the Truckers, with Obringer scoring nine points.
Sam Siegel 3-0—7; Isaac Grude 1-0—3; Spencer Klein 1-1—3; Joe Printy 5-4—14; Zach Voight 2-2—7; Michael Wade 2-3—7. TOTALS 14-10—41.
Brandon Haraway 6-8—20; Garrett Chapin 4-2—10; Garrett Obringer 4-0—9; Will Gehlhausen 2-2—7; Ian Minor 3-0—6; Ryan Sowders 1-0—3; Kyler Lacy 1-0—2; Austin Brown 1-0—2. TOTALS 22-12—59.
Perkins 10 9 10 12 — 41
Norwalk 22 4 14 19 — 59
3-point FGs: (P) Siegel, Grude, Voight; (N) Obringer, Gehlhausen, Sowders