Columbian was a gracious host Saturday against Norwalk. On senior day, Columbian not only honored its four seniors - Jocelyn Cole, Michaela Miller, Megan Moore and Marissa Ward - but also gave flowers to their counterparts from Norwalk.
But once the game started, all Norwalk gave Columbian in return was headaches.
Defenses dominated the first half Saturday afternoon with turnovers outnumbering points. Norwalk hit the locker room with an 18-8 lead.
In the third quarter though, the Truckers sped up while Columbian remained bogged down, and Norwalk drove home with a 50-28 victory.
Norwalk's defense forced Columbian into 28 turnovers and gave the Tornado shooters very few open looks. A lot of the focus from Norwalk was on shutting down Cole. In her final home game, Cole finished with three points.
"Norwalk's got a great defense," said Columbian coach Katie Fazekas. "They did a great job shutting down Jocelyn. We struggled offensively. We didn't shoot very well."
Norwalk coach Brock Manlet said defense is his team's calling-card, and usually determines its success in games.
"When we play good defense we're pretty good. When we struggle defensively, we struggle in all aspects," he said as his team evened up its season mark at 11-11, 4-6 in the Northern Ohio League. "I couldn't be more proud of my girls. They played as hard as they possibly could and we got in passing lanes and we frustrated them. That was our gameplan going in."
As much as Columbian was struggling, Norwalk's offense wasn't fairing much better. The Truckers turned the ball over 15 times in the first half, but were able to build a lead thanks in part to going 7 for 7 from the foul line in the second quarter.
The one offensive bright spot was Makayla Cook, who knocked down a pair of 3-pointers early and scored nine of her game-high 15 points in the first half.
"Makayla's played good the last five or six games for us," Manlet said. "She's putting up points. She's running the point like I want her to do, and that's huge for us to build depth going into the tournament. She played a nice game."
Coming out of the break, it was apparent early Norwalk was ready to pick up the pace. The first two shots of the half were a made jumper and a made 3-pointer from Norwalk's Kailee Flowers. The Truckers hit on 10 of 17 shots in the quarter while Columbian's struggles continued, connecting on just 2 of 11.
"They made shots and we didn't," Fazekas said. "I thought we got some decent shots, they just didn't fall tonight. I thought they shot well; they're an athletic team. Credit to Norwalk, they had a good game."
"The only thing we changed, defensively I thought we were good in the first half, I think first half offensively we kind of rushed things," Manlet said. "I felt our lead should've been a little bigger with the way we were playing defense. But we got a little uncharacteristic, throwing passes that shouldn't have been there and we were just rushing. So halftime, we concentrated on slowing the offense down and making sure we run through things because we thought if we did that we could get some open looks."
Valesha Province led Columbian (7-14, 2-8) with seven points and 10 rebounds. Moore scored six points in her final home game.
After the game, Fazekas praised the efforts of all four of her seniors.
"We talk a lot about effort and I thought the seniors, they showed a lot of effort," she said. "They showed a lot of character that they didn't give up. They fight till the end. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but effort is always controllable. I thought they did a nice job fighting all the way 'til the end."