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ANAHEIM COLONY CLASSIC-Loara’s Toscano torches Norwalk as Lancers falter in final seconds of final tournament

January 5, 2023

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

ANAHEIM-It was just three seasons ago that the Norwalk High boys basketball team was enjoying part of its 10-game winning streak during the Anaheim Colony Classic, held in late December. But the pandemic and a lack of interest has forced tournament officials to mark the 2022 version the final year of the tournament, at least for now.

With that said, the Lancers wanted to avoid going winless in the event and snap a three-game losing skid. But Loara High’s Markus Toscano, who stands at 6’6”, scored a pair of baskets in the final 14 seconds and the Saxons rallied for a 55-53 win last Friday afternoon. Norwalk, which did not trail until the beginning of the fourth quarter, dropped to 7-11 as it wrapped up its non-league part of its schedule.

The Lancers had taken a 53-51 with 43.7 seconds left after senior Vincent Hernandez scored off his only offensive rebound. After Toscano tied the game, Norwalk took a timeout with 7;5 seconds remaining. A missed three-pointer from senior Jesus Gomez prompted Loara to call a timeout with one second left. When play resumed, Remy Ybarra inbounded a long pass to Toscano who launched a shot at the buzzer for the game-winner. Toscano entered the game averaging 20.4 points a game and led everyone with 20 points in the seventh-place game of the tournament.

“I thought we came out with a good attitude and a good approach and guys were playing very, very hard and focused early,” said Norwalk head coach Brent Campanelli. “We struggled to guard [Toscano]; he’s pretty good. We did a good job but when he got his touches, he made us pay for it. I have no doubt that he kind of paced them. But I think that third quarter really got to us. We went a little bit cold, and they just kept chipping away and chipping away.

“This has probably been the worst week of our season by far,” he later said. “I thought we started off Monday very well. We played Newport Harbor very tough with a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. We didn’t show up on Wednesday to play a scrappy Anaheim team and it’s really, really hard to win games at the varsity level no matter who you’re playing.”

Hernandez opened the second half with a basket to give the Lancers a seven-point lead. But they would manage just two more baskets the rest of the third quarter and with 54.8 seconds left in the stanza, Toscano tied the game at 40-40. Then 35 seconds into the fourth quarter, Kedir Abdi gave the Saxons their first lead of the game. 

After Gomez sank a pair of free throws to give Norwalk a two-point lead 59 seconds into the final quarter, the Lancers wouldn’t lead again until Gomez scored with 1:22 left in regulation. But it would be a tale of two halves as Norwalk was eight of 24 from the field in the second half after shooting 13 of 29 in the first half.

“We were managing foul trouble, so I don’t know if there was a rhythm there for some guys in that third quarter,” said Campanelli. “They were trying to figure out how to play with that.”

The Lancers had three starters and their top bench player all pick up two fouls in the first half. But senior Aytin Reyes picked up his third foul before the midway part of the third quarter and his fourth at the same point in the fourth quarter. Senior James McGarrah would pick up his third and fourth fouls before the third quarter was over, and while no one fouled out, it disrupted Norwalk’s game in the second half.

“It’s difficult; it puts guys in a position where they have to play a little bit differently,” said Campanelli. “We’ve really been trying to get a little bit more aggressive, and I think they came out to be more aggressive; our guys did defensively. But defending aggressively and with the intelligence sometimes is a fine line. I thought a few of [the fouls] were maybe questionable and something for a little bit more of a physical game if we could play that way. But we just did the best we could.”

Norwalk seemed to be in control from the opening tip, outscoring the Saxons 20-13 in the first quarter while building a nine-point lead with 3:34 left in the stanza. The Lancers shot 50 percent from the field and had three steals as Loara was limited to nine shot attempts while turning the ball over five times. It wasn’t until the three-minute mark of the second quarter that Loara was able to tie the game. But Norwalk closed out the half on a 9-4 run. 

Hernandez led Norwalk with 14 points and missed just two shots from the field while junior Jakhari Ramey scored a dozen points, had four rebounds and two assists. Gomez chipped in with 11 points, five steals, three rebounds and three assists as the Lancers put themselves in a position where they need to have a strong Mid-Cities League slate just to make the playoffs. With 10 games left in the regular season, the Lancers need to go at least 7-3 just to reach the .500 mark, which would be enough to apply for an at-large berth in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. But a 7-3 league record would also be good enough for no worse than third place in the circuit. After opening league action at Firebaugh High, Norwalk will host Lynwood High on Friday before going to Warren High on Wednesday.

“That would be a tremendous 7-3 record, but that would be to get us to .500,” said Campanelli. “If we finish in the top three in our league, we going to get that automatic bid. So, we’re not going to set an unrealistic goal, but we do feel we have an opportunity in this new league. We feel like we can compete with just about any of the teams on any night. We’re just going to prepare the best we can and see what happens.”