Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
With Westlake holding a precarious one-point lead, a loose ball sent both the Demons and the hometown Rocky River Pirates to the floor.
Rocky River gained possession near its own basket with 10.1 seconds left in the game. The Pirates then ran an inbounds play, and the ball found its way to a wide-open Jimmy Kinsley to the left of the hoop.
But what looked to be a game-winning layup turned into a stunning loss quicker than you could say Gavin Skelly.
Skelly, Westlake's 6-9 senior forward, came out of nowhere to swat Kinsley's attempt away and preserve the Demons' hard-fought 55-45 win Tuesday night in the basketball season opener for both teams.
"That's why I made the defensive switch," admitted Westlake head coach Shawn Hood. "Most of the game, Gavin had been guarding the shooter outside, but at the end I wanted him near the basket.
"I figured if they broke free, he'd have a chance to block it. That's kind of what happened there," he said.
A 3-point buzzer-beater from the top of the key from junior Pat Connors had given Rocky River a slim 31-30 halftime lead. Westlake regained the lead in the third quarter, leading by as many as four points, 44-39, on a traditional 3-point play from senior point guard Makis Beach.
But in the fourth quarter, the Pirates went to the long ball to inch closer. A trey from sophomore guard Eric Jones made it 51-49, Demons, then a three from senior Bernard Frohnapple, his second of the quarter, made it 55-54 with :49.6 left in regulation. That set up the frantic finish in the game's final seconds.
"I thought our kids worked really hard to get back into the game," said River head coach Michael Murray, whose team trailed by as many as six in the fourth quarter.
"Bernard made a big shot there to get us to within one. On the last play, we tried to run an inbounds play and we couldn't get it in. Jimmy did a nice job and went to the basket, and their guy made a good block.
"But at least we went to the basket. We wanted to make sure we tried to get something going there, but unfortunately it was just too late," he added.
Murray felt his team wasn't as aggressive with the basketball in the second half. The Pirates went nine of 12 from the free throw line for the game, but just two of two in the second half.
"I thought in the first half, we did a nice job and attacked the basket," Murray said." We got to the foul line, but as you can see we didn't in the second half. We were aggressive in the second half, but not to the extent where we were drawing people and kicking the ball out.
"I thought we played hard, but I thought there were a couple of time where we missed some kids that were open. We didn't score on some of the transition. And boy, when you let them get out and run, they're tough to guard," he added.
The Demons did just that, putting together a mix of fast breaks and 3-pointers that proved to be just enough for the win.
"My assistants get a little impatient with me with how I allow such freedom offensively," Hood said. "The bottom line is folks are going to double Gavin all season long. We need some other people who can score the ball.
"I'm developing those other people right now. This is game one. I don't want to pull confidence from kids in game one because we'll have no chance. It's going to be very difficult getting the big fella the basketball.
"Yeah, we had to grind it out a bit, but we stayed aggressive. Our guys kept shooting threes. We made some, we missed some, and that's kind of the way Westlake basketball is going to be. But we do have guys who can shoot the ball," he added.
Skelly, a Northwestern recruit, finished his night with 15 points, 12 rebounds and a number of blocks, including the game-clincher. Beach added 13 points, including a pair of treys, as did Connor Meek. Joe Hadib-Nissan, despite some first-half foul trouble, finished with eight points and seven rebounds.
Jones led all scorers with 20 points, 17 of those in the first half. Connors had 18 points, while Frohnapple added eight. Unofficially, Connors had seven rebounds, while Nathan Seffernick chipped in with five.
While it was a tough opening night loss for the Pirates, Hood felt Murray and his squad would have better days ahead.
"This guy might be the best coach in this area," Hood said of his Rocky River counterpart. "He's terrific.
"The stuff he runs is so difficult to guard. It's all misdirection stuff, screening the serener, screener step out. It totally goes against our defensive principals," he said. "For example, we zone the basket when our guy screens. Well, if you zone the basket, the guy who sets the serene is going to step out and get the three.
"He's just a terrific, terrific basketball coach. And he got a couple of good performances from his one guard and , of course, the one forward late in the game. They're good, and they're tough. They're going to be tough in their league.
"Hey, they're always going to be competitive with that coach," he added.
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