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COLONY CLASSIC – Norwalk’s youth beginning to turn it around, ends tournament and month on high note

January 6, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

ANAHEIM-When you have a team of only three returning players from the previous season, none of whom are seniors, sometimes all it takes is one tournament to jump charge the team. That’s what was facing the Norwalk High boys basketball team as it ended December winning the final two games of the Colony Tournament, hosted by Anaheim High.

Last Wednesday, Norwalk eased past Norte Vista High 60-41, then held on to edge Loara High 56-53 last Thursday morning to improve to 6-12 at the time, bringing a smile to the face of head coach Brent Campanelli, who called the latest win tough.

“I thought we played well on Monday [and] Tuesday, I thought we were really showing ourselves,” Campanelli said. “Yesterday and today, we talked a lot about just pride, and so I thought they really showed a lot of pride.”

The first half against the Saxons was as close as it could be with Norwalk’s largest lead being five points at 11-6 with 1:19 left in the opening quarter and the Saxons holding a two-point lead four times. There were seven ties and five lead changes and by halftime, the Lancers were up 23-21. Sophomore Zach Powell, who has been a bright spot all season in his first as a varsity player, had 10 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal in the first half while sophomore Robert Salazar added seven first quarter points along with three steals.

Norwalk opened the second half in grand fashion as the defense held Loara without a field goal for the first 3:58 while getting a three-pointer from junior Aytin Reyes 34 seconds in to begin the scoring. The Lancers would begin to pull away late in the third quarter with a 9-2 run, highlighted by another three-pointer from Reyes, then his first steal and assist on a Powell basket.

“We’ve been in this situation all year where we string a good half together,” Campanelli said. “With a young team and an inexperienced team, this is sort of the process. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen ourselves in these situations getting better at it. So, I think today was just an opportunity to grow and play well in that moment and the guys took a step towards doing it.

“Also, having [assistant] coach [Jim] Webster on the bench is a blessing and he suggested a zone,” he continued. “We had been talking about it, so we took a shot, mixed it up and I think it threw off Loara’s rhythm a little bit, which helped us out.”

The Lancers had a 10-point lead heading into the final stanza and even though the Saxons got to within four points on two occasions, Norwalk was able to increase its lead to 13 points with 3:44 left to play on a Powell basket. That ended a 9-2 run but Campanelli still wasn’t ready to smile as he would see Lorrenze San Diego hit a three-pointer, followed by a basket from Elias Farhat to make it a an eight-point game with 1:21 remaining. After Powell scored with 75 seconds remaining, Juan Baez and Remy Ybarra scored about 10 seconds apart and just like that, it was 56-50 with 1:02 left to play.

While Norwalk missed on three straight one and one situations over the next 28 seconds, Loara took advantage and made things interesting when Duke Huynh drained a three-pointer with nine seconds left. To add more drama to the game, two more missed free throws with 4.8 seconds left allowed the Saxons the chance to send the game to overtime. But they were unable to get a get a shot off.

“I haven’t felt comfortable in a game all year, and I think that’s part of the growing process,” Campanelli said of the 13-point lead. “Like I said, there was a lot of pride and energy and commitment in that second half. We just rode the wave and try to let guys have some trust in each other and learn through the experience. But no, I wasn’t comfortable.

“It’s in the guys’ hands and you really hope they knock down a free throw,” Campanelli later said. “They still committed to the defensive end and those are nerve wracking times. We’ve struggled to score as it is, so when we miss easy ones and we miss free throws, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. But they fought through it and stayed committed on defense, got some rebounds and finished it out.”

Powell ended the game with a game-high 22 points, one off his career-high, had six rebounds and three steals while Salazar added 10 points, four rebounds and three steals. The Lancers shot 50 percent from the field in the game, which came on the heels of a 49 percent shooting performance the previous day against Norte Vista High.

In that contest, the Lancers never trailed and increased its nine-point first quarter lead to 15 by halftime. Norwalk then put the game away in the third quarter, going on a pair of 9-2 runs and as the game reached the fourth quarter, it was 49-20. Powell scored 14 points, grabbed five rebounds and had a pair of assists and steals while sophomore Yahir Martinez also had 14 points with three steals.

Out of a possible 19 games on Norwalk’s original schedule, the team has played 18 with a Dec. 16 home contest with John Glenn High rescheduled for Wednesday. Norwalk also played three games in the Bellflower Tournament (Dec. 6-11) but added a Dec. 13 game at Whittier High game.

“Big shout out to our administration,” Campanelli said. “Our community and our parents have really tried to take it seriously. We’re doing the best we can, but we’ve been hit like everybody and we’re not going to make an excuse because you just can’t do that. Today, we had 10 [players]; yesterday we had eight or nine and the day before that we had eight. We’re just trying to get through it and guys are doing the best they can. If they feel ill, they stay home and we just roll.”

Norwalk fell to California High 65-51 on the road this past Wednesday and travelled to Workman High on Jan. 6 ahead of the city rival game. After that, six games remain on the regular season docket, all in Suburban League play. However, the first home game of those six league contests won’t come until Jan. 28.

“As long as we keep growing and getting better, I think the sky’s the limit because we are so young and inexperienced,” Campanelli said. “But it’s good to string a few [wins] together. I don’t think we’ve won two in a row all year. It’s just growing confidence and hopefully we can play better next week.”