Truckers get past Columbian, sets up huge matchup with Bellevue

PHOTO BY JILL GOSCHE Columbian's Abby Dryfuse controls the ball as she is defended by Norwalk's Jada Thomas during the game in Tiffin Monday.

When Norwalk lost to Bellevue on Jan. 9th, it faced a tough schedule to have another shot at the Lady Red with something on the line.

Now, the Truckers will have a chance at splitting the Sandusky Bay Conference Lake Division with Bellevue.

Kaelyn Harkness hit four 3-pointers and scored 16 points to lead Norwalk to a 57-36 SBC Lake win over Columbian Monday.

Norwalk improved to 18-3 overall and 10-1 in SBC play. The Tornadoes fell to 9-12, 3-8. Division II, No. 2 Bellevue will enter Thursday’s home finale against the Truckers at 20-1, 11-0.

“To look at the schedule to get back to where this game means something, gosh, what a credit to our girls,” Norwalk coach Brock Manlet said. “To run through that — that was tough games and tough teams. We had to take care of business tonight to be able to fight for the prize on Thursday.”

Norwalk hit nine 3s on the night, including 8 of 15 through three quarters.

“Norwalk knows basketball and they are a good basketball team,” Columbian coach Erin Reed said. “We ran a 3-2 zone because we thought we could close out on their shooters. A couple of times we had a hand in their face and they made the 3.”

Harkness made two 3s in the opening quarter and Leah Malson splashed in a triple to give the Truckers an 18-10 lead after one quarter. In the second quarter, Bethany Cring nailed a 3, Malson split two free throws, and Harkness hit her third 3-pointer to push Norwalk ahead, 25-10.

“To play that well early coming over here was key,” Manlet said. “If we would not have played well early and gave Columbian confidence, I think it would have been a different game.”

Abby Dryfuse made two free throws to end the 10-0 Norwalk run over 4:54, but the Truckers’ defense stuffed the Columbian offense for most of the second quarter.

Cring scored again and Malson connected on three free throws after being fouled attempting a 3. Kaia Woods made the only shot of the quarter for the Tornadoes — a trey with 1:54 left until halftime. But, Harkness scored twice more to give Norwalk a commanding 34-17 lead at halftime.

“We talked about being super focused on the game plan and knowing Columbian’s personnel and what we had to take away,” Manlet said. “I thought we were really sharp, especially defensively, in the first half.”

The Truckers did not take their foot off the pedal in the second half. Cring scored and Malson hit a 3 for a 39-19 lead. Later, Malson and Harkness connected on 3-pointers and Elena Barber hit a jumper for a 47-27 lead.

Jasmine Thomas scored off an offensive rebound and then scored with 30.7 seconds left in the quarter, giving Norwalk a 52-27 lead after three quarters. The Truckers scored the final 10 points of the quarter while the Tornadoes committed seven turnovers in the third quarter.

“I thought we would come out stronger than we did,” Reed said. “That (10-0) run killed us. Then, I did not think we played to our potential for the rest of the game.”

Norwalk outrebounded the bigger Tornadoes team, 50-40.

“I thought we worked extremely hard and took away some things that Columbian wanted to do,” Manlet said. “I thought we were fighting like crazy to get rebounds. Columbian is a big team and we are a little undersized compared to them. I thought we did the right thing and was in position. We did not always get the rebound, but I saw us working for it.”

Manlet noted the defense on Woods and Maddie Brisendine was key. After 10 points in the first half, Woods was held to just three points in the second half.

“Woods is a nice little guard,” Manlet said. “We talked about staying in front of her and trying to contain her going to the basket. It is easier said than done. She is super quick off the dribble and I thought we did a better job of it in the second half.”

Reed thought Norwalk defended Woods, Brisendine and Dryfuse well.

“I thought Norwalk made adjustments at halftime on Kaia, but I am pretty sure they were stuck on defending Abby,” Reed said. “I knew they would come in hard on Abby and she did not get a good look for a while.”

Brisendine became Columbian’s all-time leading scorer just a few weeks ago. The senior had no points or rebounds at halftime, and tallied just four points and four rebounds for the game.

“Brisendine can shoot the ball and put it on the floor, so we put a smaller, quicker player on her and tried to make her work for everything she got,” Manlet said. “We frustrated her a bit and it seemed to work. That was a key.”

Dryfuse added 11 points and seven rebounds for the Tornadoes.

“Between Kaia, Maddie, and Abby, they each have their own thing that makes them good,” Reed said. “So when one is taken away, we should be able to get those points from the other two. We did not get as much as usual tonight.”

Malson tallied 13 points while Jasmine Thomas scored 11 points. Jada Thomas grabbed 12 rebounds for the Truckers.