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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
The Norwalk High boys basketball team has gone through somewhat of an up and down season thus far. The Lancers won their first three games of the season, then lost four straight before entering Suburban League action at 6-8.
But with a 0-4 league mark staring them right in the face, the Lancers have bounced back to win two straight to end the first round of the loop, including a 58-41 home win over John Glenn High this past Monday night. The win left Norwalk at 8-12 overall and 2-4 in the circuit at the time.
“We dug ourselves into a hole for sure and we had been kind of struggling since Christmas,” said Norwalk first-year head coach Brent Campanelli. “But I thought we’ve been playing really well. We just hadn’t been able to get the win. I tell people all the time winning basketball at the varsity level is very hard to do, especially in this league.
“It’s good for us to finally get a couple of wins and now going into the second half of league, I think we have some momentum,” he continued. “We feel good about ourselves.”
Norwalk was indeed feeling good early on, going on a 13-2 run in less than a four minute span to open up a 19-8 lead in the first quarter. All five starters scored at least two points in the opening stanza with senior David Balderas having the hot hand with a pair of three-pointers. Balderas was picking up where he had left off three days prior when he sank eight perimeter shots in an 82-74 overtime win at Bellflower High. Balderas would hit two more downtown shots in the second quarter and finished the game with those 12 points along with five rebounds.
“[David] is a kid who never gets too high and never gets too low,” Campanelli said. “It’s funny because we’ve been trying to get these guys to shoot since day one and it’s been drilled into their heads that maybe shooting the three-ball isn’t exactly the best thing. But we just say, ‘stay with it, stay with it, stay with it’. It kind of broke open for us last Friday, especially for [David], and tonight.”
Norwalk went up 25-12 early in the second quarter before the Eagles (1-18, 0-6) rallied to make it a game. Back to back three-pointers from senior Cruz Gomez and a basket from senior Hugo Anguiano, who went coast to coast following a rebound, made it 25-21 with 4:25 left in the half. It was still a four-point game with 80 seconds left in the half before three-pointers from senior Desmond Johnlouis and Balderas put the Lancers up 34-24 at the break.
“I think they’re starting to believe that they can [win],” said Glenn first-year head coach Ruben Guerrero. “I think they’re starting to believe that they can compete with teams. The problem is they have to recognize what John Glenn basketball is and then play our game and not [the opponent’s] game.”
Gomez scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half but was saddled with foul trouble late in the half and picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter. At that point, the Lancers were up 37-28 and would quickly build a 20-point lead heading into the final stanza. In addition to Gomez sitting on the bench for most of the second half, Anguiano also had foul problems despite having six of his nine rebounds in the second half and finishing the game with 17 points.
“The foul trouble did factor in because no matter if we lose a scorer or not, we lose size as well,” Guerrero said. “So that really affected us offensively and defensively. Norwalk is a big team, but that’s our issue every game. We don’t have the size to compete with the big guys.”
Senior Jordan Volpei led Norwalk with 13 points and had eight rebounds while Johnlouis added nine points and nine boards. The rivalry game was also the first for both head coaches as Campanelli came over from Sunny Hills High while Guerrero previously coached at Whitney High. “It means a lot,” Campanelli said of the rivalry. “I know it means a lot to our school and to our kids. To me personally, it means a lot. I just want to get these guys an opportunity to win basketball games as much as I can. They’re the ones who ultimately do it.”
“I thought it was good; I liked the atmosphere,” Guerrero said. “I think it pushes the players to play a lot harder. When it comes to rivalries, I just think the atmosphere plays a lot into it and the pride factor comes into it.”
Before the game, the Lady Lancers had a hard time pulling away from the Lady Eagles but managed to win an ugly game, 37-25, to improve to 8-10 overall and 2-4 in league action. Norwalk shot 29 percent from the field, led 12-3 after the first quarter and only 18-9 at the half.
“I take every game the same,” said Norwalk first-year head coach Ashley Baclaan. “But I think tonight was important also because we were in a funk. I knew we would turn the tables somehow, just for us.”
Norwalk scored 10 straight points in the first quarter from four different players but it was the performance of two bench players that stole the score in the middle portion of the contest. Junior Angie Aldana had four points, three rebounds and two steals in the second quarter while senior Crystal Lambey scored half a dozen points and came down with three rebounds and a blocked shot in the third quarter.
A steal from Aldana with less than a minute to play in the third quarter put the hosts up 29-12 and if you’re going by numbers, then it was looking good for a Norwalk win. That’s because Glenn (2-15, 1-5) had only scored more than 40 points once this season and more than 30 points five other times.
“I only look at us, honestly, and it’s not as pleasing as I want it because of so many turnovers,” Baclaan said. “Even though the defense might have held them to  points, I still expect more of my girls.”
Senior Savannah Madrid paced Glenn with eight points off the bench while junior Dalilah Mendoza added seven points and 12 rebounds. Meanwhile, Lambey led the Lady Lancers with eight points while senior Melanie Arias and Aldana each added six points. Aldana also had three steals, as did senior Destiny Hurtado and junior Alyssandra Lopez.
“Ideally, I always like balance, only because to me that means we’re moving the ball and everyone is taking good, option shots,” Baclaan said. “I expect anybody and everybody to produce something.”
Both Norwalk teams will host Mayfair High tonight before visiting Glenn on Monday and Cerritos High on Wednesday. In addition, both Glenn squads will travel to Artesia High on Wednesday.
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