A renewed sense of urgency has filtered its way through the Bellevue girls basketball team.
Knowing a four-peat is near in the Northern Ohio League, the Lady Red overwhelmed host Norwalk with their defensive pressure Saturday in a battle of first place teams, 63-37.
With the win, Bellevue improved to 13-4 overall and 9-1 in the NOL. The Lady Red visit Sandusky Tuesday, and host Willard next Saturday in a potential winner-take-all matchup for the league crown.
Willard sits at 14-2 overall and 7-1 in the NOL, with Bellevue handing the Crimson Flashes their lone league loss (75-58, Jan. 4). Meanwhile, Norwalk drops a game back in the loss column at 12-5, 7-2. The Truckers still have a say Tuesday when they visit Willard, but do not control their fate after Saturday’s loss.
Bellevue pressured Norwalk into eight turnovers in the first quarter alone to set the tone, and held the Truckers to just three missed field goals and six turnovers in the first 4:47 of the opening quarter.
“We’ve had some lows this season, but this team is starting to turn the corner,” Bellevue coach Ryan Orshoski said. “And I’m talking in terms of their attitude, accepting of roles and coaching … they’re putting their heads down and working.
“We felt very confident coming over here, and wanted to impose our will on them,” he added. “I thought our defensive pressure was the catalyst all day, and I’m enjoying this team right now.”
Norwalk seemed to settle down and play under more control in the second quarter, but still turned it over six more times. However, they didn’t let the game get out of reach as Alicia Lortcher scored six of her team’s 12 points in the quarter as the Lady Red took a 27-18 lead into halftime.
But in the third quarter, Bellevue simply dominated in every facet.
Carly Santoro and Makala Daniel took over, with Santoro scoring six and Daniel four on a 10-0 run by the Lady Red in the first 3:21 of the third to open up a 37-18 lead. Three of those baskets were off Norwalk turnovers in the backcourt, and the last bucket came off a beautiful feed underneath the basket from Whitney Schalk to Santoro.
Out of a timeout, Norwalk got a pair of baskets from Jiselle Thomas and Kailee Flowers to pull within 37-22. But from there, Bellevue shut the door with an 11-2 scoring run, capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by Daniel and Santoro in the final 40 seconds, which gave Bellevue a 48-24 lead.
“We were dialed in here because we needed a win in the NOL, and we have sectional seeding (today),” Orshoski said. “We want to be playing our best basketball by the end of the season, and I think we are doing that. Norwalk and Willard have to play each other on Tuesday, so we wanted to take care of our end of the deal, and we did that.”
On the opposite side, Norwalk was playing in its biggest game in program history. Sitting on 12 wins, no Norwalk team has ever won 13 games in a single season. And thanks to a 45-42 win at Bellevue early in the season, the Truckers entered the game in first place with four games left, despite never finishing higher than third in the league since 1975.
Playing in front of by far the biggest crowd at NHS since the building opened in 2002, Norwalk coach Brock Manlet was asked if the magnitude of the game got to his team at all.
“That was something I was definitely worried about, because they haven’t played in that kind of spotlight, and Bellevue has played in a lot,” he said. “I don’t know if it affected our girls, but we did seem a little tight at the beginning. Once we gathered ourselves there in the second quarter I thought we were over that, but they took it to another level in the second half, and we just didn’t respond.”
Norwalk finished with 16 turnovers, most of which led to Bellevue points, as well as a 13-of-28 shooting effort while losing the rebounding battle (38-26),
“That’s disappointing because I thought for the most part throughout the year we’ve done a nice job against pressure,” Manlet said. “That was definitely unexpected for us to struggle that much against it, but you have to credit Bellevue. They were really physical with us, and we kind of backed down a little bit, so that was disappointing.”
Santoro finished with 24 points on 11-of-20 shooting, while Daniel had a monster game with 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting while grabbing 13 rebounds. Janelle Watson also had 13 rebounds for the Lady Red.
“In the first game we held her to I believe six or seven points and kept her off the boards,” Manlet said of Daniel. “When we did that, we won. We didn’t do that this game, and they’re too good to let their other players step up and have big games like that. You know Carly is going to get hers, but when other players step up like that, it’s hard to stop them.”
Thomas, a freshman, scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds for Norwalk. Fetherolf added nine points and seven rebounds, and Lortcher scored eight points.
Today’s sectional draw at the Div. II Seneca East site will feature all area teams. Bellevue, Norwalk and Willard will all be there with 12-plus wins, while Sandusky (9-7), Perkins (7-11) and Edison (3-14) are also in the sectional.