MADISON TOWNSHIP — Tournament-savvy Norwalk made the plays when it had to.
The fourth-seeded Truckers connected on 11 of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter, rallying for a 62-58 win over No. 3 Shelby in the nightcap of a Division II district semifinal doubleheader Wednesday at Madison Middle School.
Norwalk (18-7) will try to defend its district title at 2 p.m. Saturday against top-seeded Upper Sandusky. The Rams defeated Ontario 54-45 in Wednesday’s early game.
Norwalk trailed 39-33 at the half, but limited the high-scoring Whippets (18-6) to 19 second-half points. Shelby managed just six points in the third quarter.
“I think our experience helped us out a great deal,” veteran Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. “The schedule we play — we play a lot of league champions and a lot of teams with 18, 19, 20 wins. That’s why we do it, to get ready for games like tonight.”
Shelby led by as many as nine points in the first half and eight midway through the third quarter before the Truckers made their stand. Norwalk put together an 8-0 run and pulled even at 43-43 with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter on a pair of Will Gehlhausen free throws.
Shelby took a 45-43 lead to the fourth, but Norwalk took the lead for good on a conventional three-point play by Garrett Chapin less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
The Truckers led 57-52 after a Garrett Obringer layup with 2:18 remaining, but Shelby’s T.J. Pugh drilled a long 3-pointer to make it 57-55 with 2:11 to play. Gehlhausen’s layup with 2:01 to go gave Norwalk a 59-55 lead, but Shelby’s Andre Hill drained a trey with 1:09 remaining to make it 59-58, setting up a frenetic final minute. Shelby had a couple of opportunities to reclaim the lead but a pair of costly turnovers and clutch free throw shooting by the Truckers sealed it.
“The biggest thing was we didn’t finish layups,” first-year Shelby coach Nathan Loney said. “I said their physicalness was going to be the difference-maker in the game and it showed there in the second half.
“In the first half we finished our looks at the rim and rebounded the basketball pretty well. In the second half, they kicked our butts on the offensive and defensive boards.”
Norwalk’s ability to handle Shelby’s pressure resulted in several uncontested layups for the Truckers.
“We spent the last eight weeks going against pressure all the time,” Gray said. “We didn’t run an offensive set the last two days in practice. It was all about getting people to the right spots.”
The Truckers were 22-for-24 from the free throw line. Shelby attempted just four freebies, making one.
“Coach (Tom) Foster does a great job with the kids in that regard,” Gray said. “They stepped up with a great deal of confidence and did a great job tonight.”
Chapin led Norwalk with 18 points. Obringer added 14 while Gehlhausen and Ian Minor each had 13.
Pugh led the Whippets with a game-high 21. Hill had 11 and Grant Gossom added 10.