NORWALK — In last year’s matchup between the Newton and Norwalk basketball teams in Norwalk, the Cardinals came from behind to earn a thrilling overtime victory.
Although Newton trailed throughout the game yet again on Friday night, no comeback was in the works this time around.
The Cardinals (1-3, 0-1 Little Hawkeye Conference) struggled to get their offense going early and couldn’t complete their comeback, falling to Norwalk 45-37 in the teams’ conference opener.
“This eight-point loss feels like a 30-point loss right now. That’s how it’s hitting me and how it’s hitting the girls,” Newton coach Brandon Sharp said. “The effort is always there with these girls, but working hard and working smart is something we’re still working on.”
While neither team lit up the scoreboard in the first quarter, the Cardinals struggled a little bit more than the Warriors. Four points from senior Michelle Marquis kept the Cardinals alive for a little while, but the Warriors closed out the quarter on a 9-2 run to take a 15-5 lead into the second.
“The first quarter was definitely a struggle,” Sharp said. “We didn’t have good practices at all this week, and that played into (Friday night) and the slow start.”
Although the Cardinals’ offensive struggles continued into the second, a 3-pointer from senior Kaylie Rhoads at the 5:40 mark snapped Newton out of its slump. Six more points from Rhoads and two apiece from senior Katelyn Camp and sophomore Shelby Gray helped Newton trim the deficit back to nine, which is where the teams were going into halftime with the score at 27-18.
“We finally started to execute, and we knew they were going to come out in their 1-3-1,” Sharp said. “We spent about 45 minutes of practice every day working against their defense, and we finally decided to slow things down on offense and just execute.”
Newton’s offensive struggles returned in the third quarter, but the Cardinals’ defense turned things up a notch with a full-court press. Another three from Rhoads broke a 6-0 Norwalk run, then the press allowed the Cards to shrink the deficit back to 10 thanks to press-related baskets by Marquis and sophomore Michaela Jacobson.
“With our press, we’re always looking to speed up the game and make the other team make the quick decisions and toss the ball around,” Sharp said. “We still have a long way to go for our defense to be where we want it to be at the end of the year, but our press looked a heck of a lot better than it did in our previous games. It was the little shining part of tonight.”
After the rest of the game was relatively clean up to that point, the fourth quarter became a glorified free-throw contest with an abundance of fouls by both teams. It was tough for either to develop a rhythm offensively due to both teams being in the bonus with nearly three minutes left to play.
Newton’s defense did its part by not allowing any big baskets, but the Cardinals simply couldn’t get the ball in the basket on the other end. Meanwhile, Norwalk was able to hold a lead anywhere from eight to 12 points in the closing minutes, effectively ended any shot Newton had at another comeback.
Rhoads finished with 15 points to lead all scorers. The Cardinals will return to nonconference action tonight when they host Marshalltown.
Norwalk 45, Newton 37
Newton — 5 13 9 10 — 37
Norwalk — 15 12 10 8 — 45
Newton — Rhoads 15, Gray 6, Marquis 6, Camp 4, Samson 4, Kalkhoff 1, Latcham 1
Norwalk — H. VanVelzen 12, Villegas 9, Rice 8, Lammers 5, Thompson 4, T. VanVelzen 4, Brown 3