COLUMBUS (AP) — With four minutes remaining and Norwalk hanging on to a suddenly tenuous lead over defending champion Columbus Watterson, Truckers guard Ben Haraway came up lame.
So what were you thinking at that time, coach Steve Gray?
“Oh my God,” he said.
But Haraway was able to return despite a twisted ankle and his presence was huge down the stretch as the Truckers beat the Eagles 65-58 for the Division II state championship on Saturday.
Haraway scored 29 points, scoring nine points after he hobbled briefly to the bench, to lead the way.
“I buckled my knee and rolled my ankle at the same time,” said Haraway, an Associated Press honorable mention All-Ohioan. “I thought I was going to be out for a while.”
He hit a free throw after limping to the free-throw line, then after Watterson pulled within four points with under a minute left, he made four foul shots in the final 36.6 seconds to lock up the victory — which came in Norwalk’s first-ever trip to the state’s final four.
“He’s a special person,” Gray said, nodding to his smiling point guard. “The way he looks now is the way he looks in every practice and at school. He’s just a happy guy.”
First-team All-Ohioan Jeff Thomas added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Truckers (29-1), who were ranked No. 2 in the final regular-season AP poll.
“We’re the first team from Norwalk to win a (basketball) state championship,” Thomas said. “I can’t explain my feelings right now.”
Second-team All-Ohioan Matt Hughes had 23 points and 10 rebounds for fourth-ranked Watterson (26-3), which hit just 4 of 24 behind the arc. Cody Calhoun added 15 points and Matt Lehmann had 11.
“It was a little more fun last year,” Eagles coach Vince Lombardo said of the 2013 title run in Watterson’s only previous trip to the state tournament.
Norwalk made 8 of 11 shots from the field in the first quarter, scoring the final six points, to take a 20-14 lead it never relinquished. The Truckers led 31-19 at the half and 42-33 through three.
But Watterson, as canny and resilient a team as you’ll find, fought back to cut the gap to 61-57 with 53 seconds left on Hughes’ slashing drive through the paint.
After Gray called a timeout to settle his team, Haraway took an inbounds pass and dashed the length of the court before being fouled with 36.6 seconds left. He made both foul shots to give the Truckers some breathing room.
“He’s an outstanding player,” Lombardo said of Haraway. “We thought we had a good plan, but yet he still scored 29 points.”
Hughes came back with a free throw to make it a five-point game, but Haraway was fouled again while Norwalk spread the floor. He toed the line with 16.7 seconds left and made both — finishing 15 of 19 on free throws. The Eagles were only 16 of 22 as a team, compared to the Truckers’ 23 of 33.
Moments after Gray left the court, a piece of the net in his hands, he summed up his feelings.
“It’s a great day to be a Trucker,” he said.