Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
During their two regular season meetings, the Rocky River Pirates gave the Bay Rockets all they could handle as the two teams split the series. In Friday night's rubber match, nobody expected anything different as the longtime rivals met for a Division II sectional championship.
So when Rocky River's Jack Corrigan drilled a 3-pointer with two minutes left in the game, most fans at The Launch Pad were on the edge of their seats.
Clinging to a 51-47 lead, the Rockets managed to answer. They hit nine of 10 free throws down the stretch and came away with a 62-54 win over the Pirates that sent them to next week's district semifinals at North Ridgeville.
Bay, now 16-7, will face either Vermilion or Padua Thursday at 7 p.m. A win there would put the Rockets in the district championship game on Sat., March 14 at 4 p.m. at North Ridgeville High School.
Keystone and Holy Name play Wednesday night in the other semifinal game.
"In tournament basketball, anybody can make a run," said Bay head coach Jared Shetzer, whose team led the entire way. "And they made some good runs at us.
"We got off to a great start, but you knew it was coming," Shetzer said. "They're a great defensive team. Coach Murray does a fantastic job with those kids. We knew they would come back.
"I give our kids credit, because they came back and answered the bell."
That great start had Shetzer's Rockets up 7-0 and pitching a shutout until Evan Nugent scored inside for the Pirates with 3:30 left in the first quarter. Bay led by 10, 12-2, but Rocky River bounced back to trail by only four, 13-9, heading into the second quarter.
In the second, River made another run and pulled to within a point, 16-15, on a steal for two by Sutton Klodnick. But the home team answered with a 10-1 run to close out the half. John Koz was a big part of that Rocket outburst, scoring six of his game-high 21 points in that stretch.
Bay held a 26-16 halftime lead, but the Pirates kept coming.
Rocky River pulled to within two points twice late in the third quarter, once on a 3-pointer from Eric Jones and the other on a driving jumper from Klodnick. But Koz came back with a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer in the quarter's final minute to give Bay a 40-33 lead heading into the fourth.
The Rockets led by as many as 12 points, 45-33, in that final quarter. River made one last run, with Corrigan's trey keeping the game in doubt. But moments later, Danny Heideloff hit both ends of a one-and-one to start Bay's game-clinching march to the free throw line.
For the game, the Rockets hit 26 of 31 free throw attempts. Rocky River, which shot just 38 percent from the floor on the night, made five of 13 attempts from the stripe.
"I had us for shooting 25 threes in the game, and they shot eight," said River head coach Michael Murray when asked about the free throw discrepancy.
"That's part of it. We were more perimeter-oriented than they were tonight," Murray continued. "They definitely benefited at the line. Maybe there were times where we could have gone to the line, but we didn't.
"We settled for a lot of jumpers, and that had a lot to do with it," he said.
Shetzer, on the other hand, felt his team's defense played a big part in the win.
"We didn't do anything any differently than we've done all year, except for the fact that we played defense for probably the first time in the two years I've been here," said Shetzer, whose team forced 18 Pirate turnovers on the night.
"If that's the way we're going to be defensively the rest of the way, we're going to be pretty tough to beat," Shetzer said.
Bay committed its fair share of turnovers, giving the ball up five times in the fourth quarter while trying to protect the lead.
"That's a product of having kids who are told to play fast all of the time," Shetzer said.
"You want them to play fast, then you're saying 'hey, slow down a second' and go possession by possession. Sometimes kids just want to make plays. I'd rather have kids who want to make plays than kids who are terrified to have the ball.
"It's a double-edged sword," he added.
After Koz, 6-8 senior Rex Sunahara contributed 11 points and eight rebounds despite picking up his fourth foul in the third quarter.
From there, no other Rocket reached double figures. Brandon Morriss had six points and six rebounds, while Jonathon Brajdic, Alec White, Scott Durham and Heideloff each scored five points. Durham, playing big minutes in Sunahara's absence, also had five rebounds.
For Rocky River, Jones led the way with 16 points, while Corrigan finished with 11 Points and 10 rebounds. Pat Connors added nine points as the Pirates concluded their season at 10-13.
"We did compete, and we were able to make some runs," Murray said.
"But there were times where we'd either settle for the long jumper, or didn't get back on defense to give them some easy baskets,. When we stayed in front, they struggled. But then we gave them some easy layups.
"I bet we gave up 10 points on them throwing the ball ahead and getting open layups," he said.
When it was all said and done, it was all about execution, according to Murray.
"I'm proud of our kids' effort," Murray said. "Our effort was there, but our execution wasn't.
"We played OK on defense, but there were a lot of missed opportunities where they were handing the ball off, or a high screen where we didn't hedge, times when we didn't block out and couldn't get the rebound.
"For us to have a defensive game like that and have a poor shooting night, it's a recipe for not winning a game," he said.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: