Norwalk Truckers ready for rematch with Toledo Whitmer Panthers

MORNING JOURNAL/JIM BOBEL Norwalk’s Jake Fetherolf, right, blocks the shot of Toledo Whitmer’s Ricardo Smith in the fourth quarter of last year’s Division I Regional Semifinal played at the University of Toledo.

Throughout this season, Norwalk has been in a class of its own.

Through 14 games, the Truckers are still unbeaten and have only played one game decided by single digits.

On Saturday, in front of what’s expected to be a full house, Norwalk will host its toughest test yet in the Toledo Whitmer Panthers, state-ranked and coming off a Division I state runner-up season a year ago which was vacated by the OHSAA in December because of an ineligible player. Both teams are ranked in the top five in the AP D-I Basketball Poll — Whitmer is ranked No. 4 and Norwalk No. 5 — which means all eyes across the state will focus in on this much-anticipated game.

The Truckers have waited 10 long months for another chance to play Toledo Whitmer after falling to the Panthers, 40-32, in a D-I regional semifinal. It was the Truckers’ only loss of last season, and they’ve learned plenty from it.

“We found out we had to be a heck of a lot tougher, mentally and physically,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. “To win a game like (against) Whitmer in the regionals, you have to value every possession, every shot you take and every box out. I do think Whitmer has been a lot of our motivation for this year.”

Norwalk has taken those lessons to heart, starting 14-0 including a 70-55 win last Saturday over Toledo Rogers. The Panthers ended Norwalk’s perfect season a year ago, leaving the Truckers with a sense of unfinished business heading into the rematch.

“We were undefeated at the time last year and they beat us,” senior Trey Hallock said. “There’s a little chip on our shoulder from that. It’ll feel good if we come out, and get them back on Saturday.”

The Truckers returned all but two players from last year’s team. Senior Jake Fetherolf said he and his teammates have been looking forward to getting another crack at Whitmer, led by Wisconsin recruit Nigel Hayes.

“We’re pretty excited to see how we’ve improved from last year,” Fetherolf added. “I mean, hopefully the results are better than they were last year. But they’re a good team, so we better come to play.”

Since the loss, Norwalk has played outstanding basketball, holding half of its opponents below 40 points. The Truckers have been motivated by the loss and hope that their home-court advantage is the difference.

“We’re pretty good at home with our fans, our student body and our community,” Gray said. “We’re excited about competing against Whitmer at our place. The atmosphere’s going to be electric.

“It’s the reason coaches put in the hours that they do. It’s why kids go through conditioning and they go in the weight room all summer: to play in games like this. We were very excited about Rogers and we’ll be a little more excited about this Saturday night.”

Bender hits 1,000 points

Elyria’s Kody Bender has enjoyed a great career with the Pioneers, and added to his list of milestones by scoring his 1,000th point on Jan. 11 in a 67-53 win over Parma.

Bender, a recruit of West Liberty University, a Division II college in West Virginia, became just the seventh player in school history to reach 1,000 points.

He joins coach Brett Larrick as members of the 1,000-point club at Elyria High. Play was stopped when Bender scored his 1,000th point in the second quarter as he was awarded the game ball.

Bender finished the night with 17 points.

Held nears milestone

New London senior forward Dane Held is closing in on the 1,000-point milestone.

Held, who is averaging 16.7 points per game for the 11-2 Wildcats, sits at 926 points going into tonight’s game at Ashland Crestview. He is also just 33 rebounds away from 500 for his career and two assists away from 300.

With nine games to play in the regular season, Held should be able to reach the 1,000-point milestone putting him up with some of the best players in New London history.

The Wildcats play three of their next five games on the road, meaning Held might reach the milestone away from home.

Coaches vs. Cancer

Vermilion and Elyria will participate in the Coaches vs. Cancer’s 10th annual Suits and Sneakers Week on Tuesday night as both Kurt Habermehl and Larrick will wear sneakers with their coaching attire.

The two coaches will join over 4,000 college and high school coaches wearing sneakers to support Coaches vs. Cancer which turns 20 this year. The charity has raised over $85 million to support the American Cancer Society as it continues to search for a cure to fight cancer.

Coaches vs. Cancer brings basketball teams and their fans together to raise awareness and funds for the American Cancer Society.

@Bielik_Tim

Last Updated: 1/24/2013 11:14:07 PM EST

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