The kids are growing up.
With a starting lineup that doesn't feature any seniors, the young Norwalk boys basketball team endured another character-building moment with a come-from-behind 54-49 overtime win over Willard Friday night at Robert L. Haas Gymnasium.
Norwalk improved to 6-3 overall, 5-1 in the Northern Ohio League, and took sole possession of second place, one game behind Shelby. Willard fell to 6-3, 3-3.
The Trucker win also snaps a four-game losing streak to Willard, and also improved to 2-4 in overtime games all-time against the Crimson Flashes. It was also just the fourth Norwalk win at Willard since the 1971-72 season.
"We haven't placed a ceilling on what we want to accomplish," Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. "We just want to work hard and try to be better every game. I can't remember when I've had so much fun coaching a group. They just come to practice and respond to coaching.
"It's fun being a Trucker right now."
The fourth quarter was a tough display of offense for both teams, as neither scored until a Jalen Douglas free throw gave Willard a 41-38 lead with 4:13 remaining.
After a 3-pointer by Norwalk freshman Jeff Thomas to tie the game at 43-43 with 2:28 left, both teams went back and forth down the stretch. Thomas gave Norwalk a 46-45 lead with 1:34 left, but Willard's Hayden Adams split a pair of free throws to tie the score with 50 seconds left.
Norwalk held for the last shot, but freshman Ben Haraway was whistled for a travel driving to the basket with four seconds left. A last-ditch Willard shot fell short and the game went into overtime, 46-46.
One of the Truckers' few returners this season, junior Jacob Cashen, stepped up in the overtime and scored back-to-back buckets around a Willard free throw to take a 50-47 lead with 1:48 left.
A big rebound in transition saw Trucker junior Darian Cook drive the length of the floor for a basket and a commanding 52-47 lead. After a Willard score and foul, Cashen put the game away with a pair of free throws with 36 seconds left.
"I was happy we got to overtime, it seemed like we were playing uphill all night," Gray said. "I thought it allowed us to take a deep breath and relax, which allowed us to do a couple things offensively. In every sense of the word, it was a team win."
Willard coach Dave Hirschy said his team lacked the toughness needed to win.
"It's just a matter of being tough," Hirschy said. " We have great, hard-working kids, but we're not tough at this point and we have to get tougher.
"Free throw shooting, rebounding, converting easy baskets and making stops -- Tough teams get that done, and Norwalk got that done tonight."
Hirschy still felt good about the overtime, even though his team finished 6 of 17 at the free throw line.
"I felt pretty good because up until the last few games, we've been pretty good at getting stops when we needed to and taking care of the ball," he said. "I don't know if we got tired or what happened, but I do know Thomas really stepped up for them and hit some bit shots."
"I obviously didn't want to go to overtime, and if we had made our free throws with a three-point lead in the fourth quarter we could have put the wraps on it and we couldn't do it."
Thomas scored a game-high 18 points for the Truckers on 7-of-15 shooting while Cook added 12 points and seven rebounds. Cashen added eight points and eight rebounds. For the game, Norwalk was 23 of 48 from the field.
For Willard, Douglas and Kyle Fluharty each scored 10 points.
In the junior varsity game, Norwalk improved to 9-0 with a 68-41 win. Michael Finch scored 15, Damias Peacock added 13, Grant Hull scored 11 and Cody Gregory added 10.
NORWALK (6-3, 5-1)
Ben Haraway 2-0--4, Darian Cook 6-0--12, Jeff Thomas 7-1--18, Jacob Cashen 3-2--8, Dirk Weisenburger 1-0--2, Jake Featherolf 2-2--6, Trey Hallock 1-0--2, Evan Light 1-0--2. Totals 23-5--54.
WILLARD (6-3, 3-3)
Jalen Douglas 3-3--10, Spencer Temple 2-0--5, Kyle Fluharty 5-0--10, Colin Phillips 4-0--8, Marcus Hahler 2-0--4, Joe Loar 2-1--6, Eric Devlin 0-1--1, Hayden Adams 2-1--5. Totals 20-6--49.
Norwalk 13 12 13 8 8 -- 54
Willard 15 15 10 6 3 -- 49
3-pt FG: Norwalk 3 (Thomas 3); Willard 3 (Loar, Douglas, Temple)
JV: Norwalk 68-41