Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Throughout the 2014-15 season, different players have stepped up with big scoring nights for the Bay Rockets basketball team.
Tuesday night at The Launch Pad, John Koz took his turn dealing the hot shooting hand.
Koz, after a relatively quiet first half, erupted for 18 of his game-high 29 points in the third quarter. That outburst broke open a close game and helped power the Rockets to an 89-76 win over Midview in a key West Shore Conference contest.
The win allowed Bay to maintain its lead in the conference race with two games remaining. The Rockets moved to 9-3 in the WSC, while the Middies fell two games back at 7-5.
Elyria Catholic remained one game behind Bay after its 71-58 win over North Ridgeville.
But throughout the first half, Midview had given the first-place Rockets all they could handle. In fact, the Middies led by as many as three points, 35-32, on a drive for two from junior Daimion Mahone midway through the second quarter. A Mahone free throw in the final seconds pulled the visitors to within a point, 39-38.
"They were giving us everything we could handle, and then some," admitted Bay head coach Jared Shetzer. "Midview, just like every other team in the conference, is well coached and well prepared.
"They knew exactly what we were going to do," Shetzer continued. "They tried to do the best they could to stop us, and for about two and a half quarters they really did. They brought it to us defensively. Offensively, they had their way. That's probably the most points anybody's scored against us in a long time in one half of basketball.
"We're used to having 15-point leads heading into the half. Tonight was not the case," he said.
But with the Rockets trailing 42-41 two minutes into the third quarter, Koz began to take things into his own hands. The 6-2 junior scored on an offensive rebound and was fouled. He hit the free throw to give the Rockets a 44-42 lead, but Mahone scored again to tie it up at 44-all.
It would be the final tie of the game.
Senior point guard Danny Heideloff split a pair of free throws, then Koz went coast-to-coast for a layup to make the score 46-44, Rockets. Dustin Crum countered with a jumper for Middies, but then Koz answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to give Bay its biggest lead of the half. Midview head coach Troy DiFranco had seen enough and called for a timeout with 3:17 left in the quarter.
"We just couldn't get over the hump," DiFranco said. " We needed a stop here, and a bucket here. You felt like you were right back in it, and boom: They get a three, we miss a shot and it's right back up to eight points again.
"He was feeling it," DiFranco said of Koz's outburst. "Credit to him, he knocked down shots. We tried running two guys at him, and he was still getting off his shot before the other guy got there. That was definitely a big point in the game for them.
"He had a couple where I didn't think we were close enough. But he had other ones where he was hitting with hands in his face," he added.
Logan Bolin scored for the Middies out of the timeout, but Koz came right back with a jumper and another 3-pointer to make it 58-48, Rockets with 2:10 to go in the third. Koz scored his next two points from the free throw line, giving him 18 points for the quarter and a personal run of 15 straight for the Rockets
"I just started hitting shots," Koz said. "My teammates just kept giving me good chances, and I had some open looks.
"I caught fire a little bit, and I just kept going. With the way we were playing on the defensive end, we knew that as long as we kept hitting shots we could keep it going. They're a great team, and they played us well the whole game.
"We just shot the lights out," he added.
Shetzer said he had a feeling Koz was ready to go off.
"When John gets going, he gets that look in his eyes," Shetzer said. "He's going to take over.
"As a coach, you just sit back, watch and enjoy. You're part of the ride just as much as everybody else in the gym. Our guys did a nice job of getting him the basketball, and it was just a phenomenal performance by him.
"But again, it's something that he's capable of every night. As an opponent, you've got to prepare for him," he said.
Midview, however, kept coming and pulled back to within five points 75-70, on a 3-pointer from Jacob Wells with just over three minutes left in the game. But the Rockets went on a 11-0 run, capped off by a Koz trey and a fast break bucket from Rex Sunahara.
At 86-70 and just one minute left on the clock, the Rockets had taken another step toward clinching the final WSC championship.
Mahone led the Middies with 22 points, while Dimitri Redwood followed with 16 points and six rebounds. Bolin and Wells chipped in with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
"Even after their run, I felt like we still had a shot," DiFranco said.
"But then we had some crucial turnovers, missed some free throws and missed some shots in the paint. And I don't know what they were from the free throw line, but I don't think they missed many.
"When you're playing a team that's hot like they were, you can't give up points in the paint and from the free throw line," he added.
Bay indeed cashed in at the line, making good on 21 of 28 attempts compared to Midview's 15 of 21.
The 6-8 Sunahara, despite being in foul trouble throughout the game, had 18 points and nine rebounds, while 6-3 forward Brandon Morriss had 17 points and five boards. Alec White came off the bench and contributed 12 points and four rebounds.
Up next for the Rockets is a road game this Friday night at Avon. A win would clinch at least a share of the conference crown.
"Friday's a new game," Shetzer said.
"Right now, it's one practice at a time, one game at a time, one moment at a time," Shetzer said. "Play in the present, be in the moment and don't worry about all the other stuff. That will take care of itself when it gets here.
"Friday's going to be tough. It's going to be an environment that's going to be rowdy and loud. Our kids will goo in there and do their best, and we'll see what happens," he added.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: