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CIF-SS D IV Basketball AA PLAYOFFS : Road warrior Norwalk squad stuns fourth-seeded St. Margaret’s behind starting unit

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO-The Norwalk High boys basketball team has played inside the friendly confines of its own gymnasium just three times since Dec. 9. Despite being on the road for over 75 percent of the season, the Lancers and head coach Brent Campanelli don’t mind.

Being on the road does have its perks and the Lancers used that to their advantage as they shocked St. Margaret’s High, the fourth-seeded team in the CIF-Southern Section’s Division 4 AA 60-48 this past Wednesday night, improving to 17-11. Norwalk, which finished in third place in the Suburban League, draws another road game tonight against Flintridge Prep.

“That was a big focal point to start the year when we made the schedule,” Campanelli said. “So, I think that aspect of it helped us being prepared to be able to travel. Granted, we didn’t travel this far, but it definitely helped. We played a tough non-league schedule; that’s for sure. We know what the Suburban League is like. So, we had to prep for that. These guys have worked so hard for three years. I wanted them to have the opportunity to get in. That’s why we had to put them on the road all year, and if they got in, we knew we would be going on the road. We want to keep playing for sure.”

Norwalk’s last trip to the postseason, which came during the 2015-2016 campaign, was also the last time the program finished above .500 (14-13). The 17 victories are the most in over 21 seasons and this is the first time since the 2009-2010 season that any Norwalk team has advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

The Tartans never led in the contest and the game was tied just once, 2-2 almost three minutes in. At 7-5, the Lancers reeled off eight straight points to have their first double-digit lead with 5:23 remaining in the half. Norwalk’s suffocating defense caused the Academy League champions to turn the ball over 10 times in the first half and connect on six of 19 shots from the field in that time. 

The hosts would creep back and try to take control of the game by scoring nine straight points later in the second quarter. However, consecutive baskets from senior Chris Herrera and a buzzer-beating basket from senior Pablo Juarez enabled Norwalk to hold a 21-17 halftime lead. 

“I thought we might have an opportunity to turn them over a little bit because they might not have seen the defense we were trying to run,” Campanelli said. “It sure it won’t be a secret anymore. But we took care of the basketball, and that comes down to [the] seniors.”

Will Kenner opened the second half drawing the Tartans back to within a basket. But any chance of a second half rally was dashed when Norwalk reeled off nine straight point to lead 30-19 almost three minutes into the second half. Norwalk outscored St. Margaret’s by 10 points in the third quarter with all the scoring coming from its starters. 

While the Lancers didn’t shoot well either in the first half, Campanelli credits his starters and supporting cast as to is defensive performance through the first three quarters.

“The simple answer is Kevin Garrett, Pablo Juarez, Chris Herrera, Jayden Williams, Miguel Fernandez, Julian Price,” Campanelli said. “I could keep going down the list. [Senior Armando Castellanos], [senior] Daniel [Recinos]; guys that played and the bench…every one of those guys were locked in for two days, and they stuck to the game plan. They took more charges tonight than I think we took all of January, and bottom line, it was on them and that’s why we got it done.”

Senior Kevin Garrett matched his career-high of 19 points that he set five days prior against Bellflower High and had six rebounds and two steals. Herrera added 18 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists while junior Jayden Williams pitched in with 10 points and eight rebounds. All five starters combined for all but two points and three field goals attempted.

As to if this was the biggest victory Campanelli, who needs one more to reach 50 for his time at Norwalk, has ever tasted, he didn’t hesitate to think about the answer.

“It’s not even close,” Campanelli said. “We beat La Mirada my second year; we battled those guys tough. We lost to Mayfair by two last year. We battled them tough this year. I think before this, it probably would have been our tournament championship. And then simply winning on senior night five days ago was huge. But this is definitely the biggest one for me. No doubt about it.

“But speaking to my four years here, if [former head coach and current assistant coach] Jim Webster wasn’t here, he doesn’t convince us to play that zone,” he continued. “If he’s not here, we don’t do it, and we don’t win without him. So, I’ve got to give it up to him. He really paved the way a long time ago for me.”

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