Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
In their first three games of the season, the Bay Rockets found victory to be elusive in a number of different ways.
But on Friday night, all facets of their game seemed to all come together against the Lakewood Rangers.
The Rockets jumped on Lakewood early with a 20-4 run to start the game. In the meantime, the defense put the clamps on the Rangers' potent offense just enough to come away with a 96-80 win over the defending West Shore Conference champs at The Launch Pad.
"In our first three games, there was a lot of one-on-one, let-me-get-mine," said Bay head coach Jared Shetzer, whose team moved to 1-3 overall and 1-2 in the WSC.
"It wasn't anything like they did tonight, which was share their contributions on the offensive end and, more importantly, on the defensive end," Shetzer said. "I mean, that's a team that's going to score 80-90 points a night. Sure, we gave up 80, but in the first half we held them to 33 points.
"Going into halftime, we were pretty happy about that. The beginning of the game, that dictated everything. It all started on the defensive end," he said.
Lakewood, which was without injured post player Logan Swift, never led in the game. And a 2-2 tie off a Joe Malone layup was the final tie of the game as the Rocket defense went to work early against the Rangers and their sharp-shooting guard, Wes Gerhardt.
The Lakewood junior was hounded from the opening tip with tight man-to-man defense. He did not score in the first quarter and left the game just over three minutes in with his second foul.
"He deserves every accolade he gets," said Shetzer of Gerhardt, who got back into the game and scored five points scored late in the second quarter.
"He's a phenomenal kid. He's a great player and a great person, but we weren't going to let him beat us tonight. We made that our mission: He wasn't going to come in here and make 11 threes like he did the last time," he said.
Offensively, the Rockets were red hot. They hit nine of 15 from the floor, mostly on close range shots deep inside the paint, and six of six from the free throw line. Then they went outside, and a 3-pointer from senior guard Jack Kyle had the home team up 25-10.
By halftime, the Rockets had built their lead to 44-33. They had led by as many as 15 points, 37-22, on a baseline drive from junior guard John Koz.
In the third quarter, Bay held a 59-45 lead after a 3-pointer from senior forward Brandon Morriss. That's when Lakewood cranked up its full court pressure a notch or two and began to make a run of its own.
Junior guard Malik Leisinger scored on a fast break, then the Rangers converted a pair of steals with easy layups from senior guard Nick Porter. At 59-54, the visitors were back in the game and had gained valuable momentum.
But with the game's intensity continuing to rise, Gerhardt got whistled for a technical foul near mid-court with 3:00 left in the quarter. Senior Jonathon Brajdic sank both free throws, then drained a 3-pointer to push the Rocket lead back up to single digits at 64-54.
"I haven't looked at the book yet, but I don't think I need to," said Lakewood head coach Phil Argento, whose team fell to 3-2 on the season and 1-1 in the WSC.
"I thought the technical in the third quarter when we were making a run really changed things. We had them back on their heels. We were there at that point and were making a hard push at them.
"But, we couldn't sustain it after the technical," he said.
Bay led, 69-60, after three quarters and hit the 80-point plateau with just over five minutes left in the game. A bucket inside by sophomore Nick Cady made it 82-69 with 4:35 remaining, and a Rex Sunahara rebound for two soon had the Rockets up 84-69.
Bay's biggest lead was 17 on a Sunahara free throw with 1:24 remaining.
After the game, Argento said he was less than pleased with his team's defensive performance.
"How can you be when you give up 96 points?" Argento said.
"We just didn't have as much energy as they did, But I thought Bay played very, very well," he said. "We did not defend what they were doing offensively at all. They'd make a pass into the post player, and he'd turn and make a layup.
"When that didn't happen, they fired it up and killed us on the boards," he said.
Bay held a commanding 34-20 rebounding edge, with Sunahara grabbing eight, Morriss seven and 6-5 junior Scott Durham six. Leisinger had six rebounds for the Rangers.
Offensively, Koz led the Rockets with 26 points, and Morriss added 22 points. Sunahara had 19 points off the bench, while senior Danny Heideloff and Brajdic chipped in with 10 and eight points, respectively.
Leisinger led the Rangers with 26 points. Porter had 16 points and Malone 12, with Gerhardt getting held to just 10 on the night.
"Again, it was sharing that responsibility," said Shetzer on his team's defensive effort against Gerhardt.
"It wasn't just one guy on him the whole night," he explained. "We ran a bunch of guys at him the whole night, and the communication was great because you have to know where he is at all times. That was part of the game plan.
"But they've got other guys who can fill it up too. Porter is another kid who has scored in the 20s just about every game this year. Again, I can't say enough about the team defense we played tonight. It was phenomenal," he added.
"It was what it was," Argento said." We came out flat. We didn't shoot well, and they did. They had a game plan that we couldn't prevent. We never answered the bell.
"Our full court defense eventually caused them issues and ball handling problems. They coughed it up a lot, and that allowed us to make a run. But after that, we were pretty well spent. There wasn't a lot left in the tank," he added.
Shetzer said he felt Friday night's showing was a sign of better things to come for his Rockets.
"Tonight was a product of a lot of things," he said. "We played at The Q against a good North Olmsted team, then we played two conference games back-to-back on the road. But these kids have rallied together, and they're getting their basketball legs back.
"The way we came out tonight is the way we want to come out every game. We were firing on all cylinders, sharing the basketball and playing as a team rather than playing as five individuals," he added.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: