ROCKY RIVER, Ohio -- In a Tuesday night battle between Great Lakes Conference West Division foes -- the Battle of Wagar/210 -- the Warriors outscored the Pirates over the final four minutes of play. They outscored the Pirates over the final quarter as well as over the third quarter. The visiting five outscored the Pirates over the final four minutes of the opening quarter and the first four minutes of the second. And Rocky River defeated Fairview 41-40.
In a game that perhaps had fewer field goals than some of the driveway half-court battles that have doubtless taken place on side streets connected to Wagar Road or West 210th Street, the Pirates prevailed over the GLC West's first-place team. Rocky River leveraged a a 10-2 start to the hilt, leading wire-to-wire in a game that was high-wire act all-the-way.
"The guys really worked hard toward this," said head coach Mike Murray. "I'm really proud of our effort."
For the Pirates (6-6, 3-4 GLC West) -- which had lost by 20 (69-49) at Fairview on Jan. 4 -- that effort was a five-headed one across every moment of clock time and every floorboard of an electrically charged Rocky River Gymnasium. Take that effort and double it, for Fairview battled hard every possession. The Warriors (9-4, 5-2) seemingly went into nearly every timeout, quarter break, and in-bound play with momentum. That included a final shot with a chance to win the game as time expired.
But River was spared that momentum in the early minutes of the contest some 80 minutes prior. When senior forward Patrick Lange hit a jumper at the 3:40-mark of the first quarter, Rocky River had built itself a 10-2 lead. The Pirates -- which shot a season-low 29.3% (17-of-58) from the floor in their Jan. 4 game against the Warriors -- went 6-of-13 from the field in posting a five-point lead (15-10) by the end of the first quarter. Fairview -- which committed just three turnovers in the entirety of the Jan. 4 game -- was forced into four first quarter miscues by a swashbuckling (and quick-handed) Pirate defense.
The Warriors quickly cut their deficit to two (15-13) in the early moments of the second quarter and were mostly within a bucket for the breadth of the second. A pair of Braedon Spies triples, however, fueled an 8-0 run late in the period. But even that momentum would be flipped when Fairview senior guard Sean McNamara drained a half-court buzzer-beater to close out the first half. Rocky River did go into halftime leading 28-21, but over six quarters the Warriors had shown themselves to be stocked with senior playmakers who could deliver from the perimeter and go on 6-0 runs quicker than a yellow light at Wagar and Center Ridge.
The third quarter amounted to a shoulder-to-shoulder scrum with rebound-and-turnover counts nearly matching shot totals. It was a mostly-even eight-minute frame with the two offenses clawing for every basket. Both sides came up empty over the entire back half of the third quarter: no points were scored after the four-minute mark. Rocky River led Fairview 33-27 heading into the fourth.
The Warriors -- winners of three of their previous four games -- entered Tuesday's tilt averaged 70.5 points per game, so a six-point deficit would just be a drop in the bucket. But over the final 480 seconds of this game, that bucket would be defended with all the might the River Five could muster on the court and all the enthusiasm their partisan student section could command in the stands. Still, momentum continued to creep along aiding the Warriors in the early minutes of the fourth. When senior guard Tyler Holliday knocked down a jumper at the 4:30-mark, Fairview was down by just two (36-34).
The Rocky River lead was maintained by the slimmest margin over the next three minutes of clock time. With 1:50 remaining, Patrick Lange drew a foul in the lane. Lange knocked down 1-of-2 throws from the line. The make would prove to be a crucial throw, with the Pirates taking a 41-37 lead. Holliday found twine on another three-ball, getting the Warriors within one (41-40) at the 1:14-mark.
River's next possession resulted in a turnover when senior guard Braedon Spies was whistled for a charge. Spies fouled out, and the Pirates' only real threat in game 1 against Fairview (22 points on Jan. 4) left the floor. In tow were 12 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Fairview misfired on a decent look with under 10 seconds remaining, but Rocky River mishandled the rebound-and-outlet. After a timeout, the Warriors got a second bite at the apple with six seconds remaining.
Fairview missed a 3-pointer as time expired, and River's purchase of 21 points since Jan. 4 was complete.
For the game, the Warriors went 7-of-29 (24.1%) from distance. They shot 31.9% (15-of-47) overall. Rocky River shot 38.5% (15-of-39). The Warriors were a plus-8 (9 to 17) in the turnover exchange; the Pirates were a plus-15 (36-21) on the boards.
Holliday finished with a game-high 13 points in the defensive tussle. He added eight rebounds and three assists. Fellow senior Danny Hanton notched eight points, six boards, and three assists.
Spies was the leading scorer for the home five. He has now averaged 14 points and 7.5 rebounds per game over River's last four. The air-quote Lang(e) brothers combined for 16 points (Robby Lang nine points, Patrick Lange seven). Lang added eight rebounds. Junior forward Stan Heuler contributed seven points and seven boards.
Forty minutes were played: the lead changed hands but once, when it was taken by the Pirates on an easy Lang bucket some 10 seconds into the game. Only 29 baskets were scored after that. None were easy.
Thirty buckets in a warm gym on a cold night. What to call the road that gym is on? Opinions may differ. Resolving such tribal disputes by way of the final score in a basketball game is as fine a way as any other.
by Skip Snow
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