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SUBURBAN LEAGUE BASKETBALL: Norwalk boys build big lead against Bellflower, hold off late rally for first league win

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

BELLFLOWER-Norwalk High boys basketball head coach Brent Campanelli was telling his coaching staff midway through its road game against Bellflower High that the Lancers always have trouble facing the Buccaneers on the road. Even with Bellflower sporting a 2-19 mark on senior night, the Lancers still had a hard time putting away the Bucs after leading by 16 points late in the second quarter.

Norwalk still had that same 16-point lead early in the fourth quarter before seeing it dwindle in half with just under five minutes remaining in the contest. In the end, the Lancers held on for a 62-50 victory this past Tuesday night for their first Suburban League win, improving to 15-9 overall and 1-2 in the circuit. Norwalk has also won five straight games at Bellflower and is 10-12 on the Buccaneer’s court since 1999.

“We needed to win a basketball game, for sure,” Campanelli said. “It didn’t matter who we were playing. We have a very difficult league and I’m not going to say it any other way than that. It’s really tough with the opponents, but also just having four teams. We needed to get off the zero column.

“They’re a scrappy team and it is their senior night,” he later said of Bellflower. “So, I think they were playing with a little added emotion. I think we were all playing with a little added emotion with what had transpired over the weekend. But them especially, and their defense, just kind of gave us some fits and we started to panic and throw the ball around a little bit and let them back in the basketball game.”

Norwalk scored the first six points of the game and was up 22-5 after the first quarter on the strength of 13 points from senior Chris Herrera. The lead would expand to 29-13 after senior Kevin Garrett scored off an offensive rebound with 3:02 left in the first half. Bellflower responded with seven straight points before Garrett and Herrera closed the half with six combined points.

With a 15-point halftime lead, Norwalk was ready to put the game away early in the second half. But the Bucs had other plans, like a 10-0 run to open the third quarter and three minutes in, it was 35-30.

“We had a lot of opportunities right at the rim that entire third quarter, and so I knew that if we just sort of hung in there on defense, that we would make some of those lay-ups,” Campanelli said. “And we did there in the fourth. We started to mix the defense up and just try to stay in our game.”

The Lancers responded by outscoring Bellflower 10-5 the remainder of the quarter, then went on an 8-2 run in the first 1:52 of the fourth quarter to go up 53-37. The Lancers were dominate in just about every category, grabbing 36 rebounds and having 14 steals. Herrera led everyone with 27 points while Garrett added 12 points, 12 rebounds and three steals. Junior Jayden Williams contributes with nine points, five rebounds and four steals while senior Pablo Juarez also had four thefts.

Norwalk has been having a bounce back campaign after going 11-17 last season. At one point, the Lancers, who began the season 1-4, won 10 straight games before falling to Mayfair High and La Mirada High to open league action.

“Well, we got healthy and we got Kevin eligible to play, and we were confident,” Campanelli said. “We had a really difficult front end of our schedule, and we had to play six games against some really good opponents down three main guys. We were hanging in and battling. Once we got on our run, we knew we were capable of it and we just tried to stay confident.”

Garrett, who began his career at Norwalk, transferred from Lynwood High, and wasn’t eligible until mid-December. Norwalk also missed Herrera for six games in early December and senior Daniel Recinos for seven games from late November to mid-December because of a broken hand.

Something else that Norwalk has had to deal with is a lot of games away from its own gymnasium. The Lancers truly have been road warriors, having played 16 straight games away from Norwalk, going 12-4 in that span. The last time the team played in front of its own fans was Dec. 9 against La Serna High in the first game of the Bellflower/Norwalk Tournament. Now, the Lancers will end the regular season with three straight home games, beginning tonight against Mayfair. Norwalk will also face La Mirada on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be great; we’re excited to be back home,” Campanelli said. “I love playing in our gym. This might be the last year or two we even have the gym because we’re supposed to be getting new facilities. It’s going to be fun the next three nights for sure.”

Prior to the game, the Lady Lancers also picked up their first league win in three tries with a 68-26 rout over Bellflower. Norwalk (10-12 overall), led 11-8 with 35.1 seconds left in the first quarter before it went on a 7-0 run. Then with 3:01 remaining in the first half, a 10-0 run expanded Norwalk’s lead to 34-15. Finally, the Lady Lancers began the second half with a 12-0 run as they led by 35 points nearly midway through the third quarter.

The Lady Lancers, who snapped a three-game losing streak and won for the second time in the past nine games, were led by juniors Brianna Flores (14 points) and Ariel Garate (13 points) and senior Nya Johnson (11 points). The team will also host Mayfair tonight and La Mirada on Tuesday.