OLMSTED FALLS, Ohio -- With all due respect for the moniker of the River-Bay rivalry and with a more liberal interpretation of the Great Lakes Conference schools close in proximity to Lake Erie, it has become apparent that just about any GLC West Division game is a War by the Shore.
That was certainly the case Friday night at North Olmsted High School, where the Rocky River Pirates muscled their way to a 59-49 victory over the North Olmsted Eagles. Rocky River snapped a four-game skid with a gutsy, sharp-shooting performance against their hosts, who were all-in on defending every floorboard of their three-year-old gymnasium. From the floor, the Pirates (4-6, 2-4 GLC West) overcame a physical, ball-hawking defense to shoot a season-high 52.3% (23-of-44). That shooting would net a two-to-four-possession lead for much of the night, although that lead would consistently come under fire due to two areas of the gym floor being a Bermuda Triangle of sorts for River shooters. The Pirates would have to find ways to maintain their advantage while going 8-of-23 (34.8%) from the free-throw line.
"We struggled at the line, but we showed a lot of toughness in this game," said head coach Mike Murray. "Down the stretch our defense was outstanding, and we were able to convert just enough at the offensive end."
North Olmsted (0-10, 0-5) finished the opening quarter on an 8-3 run and took a 13-9 lead into the second quarter. The opening nine minutes of play was rife with nine ties and lead changes, but when senior guard Justin Gina knocked down a jumper from the right elbow at the 6:35-mark of the second, the Pirates led 15-13. The River lead would be tested, extended, condensed, battered, and bruised the rest of the night, but one thing it never was: relinquished.
With a free throw and then baskets by Braedon Spies, Gavin O'Brien, and Robby Lang, Rocky River completed a 14-0 run to open the second quarter. Tremendous offensive rebounding -- River notched 13 offensive boards for the night -- and sensational interior passing put the Pirates on a bigger run of 21-5. With fouls on both sides piling up, North Olmsted had several points from the charity stripe, but the Eagles didn't net a field goal in the second quarter until the 50-second mark.
The Basketball Buccaneers went 9-of-13 (69.2%) from the field in the second; they went into halftime leading 30-23.
The Maroon & White logged a 10-point lead (39-29) by the midpoint of the third quarter. The home five gathered some momentum over the back half of the third, but Rocky River countered late with a big bucket in the paint by senior forward Patrick Lange.
Lange and company were solid in defending the Pirate lead by walling off the action on the glass. The senior was a physical presence in a game that demanded it. He finished with a blue-collar, 4x4 line -- four points and four rebounds -- in a game that saw the Pirates out-rebound the Eagles 35-19.
River's muscle in the paint also included Will DeClerck (six points, five rebounds), Robby Lang (18 points, 12 boards, five assists), and Braedon Spies (10 points, seven rebounds, four steals). Lang's double-double marked his second of the season; he went 8-of-9 from the floor and was a team-best plus-13 on the night.
As good as Rocky River's front court was, it was the Pirate back court stepping up with a couple dagger 3s to preserve the lead in the fourth. River had no answer for senior guard Davonte Demionov who wormed and wriggled his way to 16 field-goal attempts and 21 trips to the foul line. Demionov -- who finished with a game-high 28 points -- helped get the Eagles to within two possessions a couple times in the fourth. Thwarting both those surges was junior guard Gavin O'Brien, who tripled at the 4:15-mark and then again at 2:32 to keep the Pirates on course for their first victory since Dec. 28.
O'Brien finished with 10 points. Rocky River finished with its second road victory in five trips abroad. This one -- like any in the foreseeable future in this new-look East-West GLC -- was not a write-in "W": it was earned. Paid in full by every Pirate in every minute of the game. Against a home five fighting just as hard for every scrap of scoreboard leverage.
In other words, a GLC West game was held Friday night.
CANNON FIRE ...
YOUNG BUCS: The Double-R program pulled off a three-game sweep Friday, with the freshman Pirates delivering a 55-38 win and the JV earning a 58-44 triumph. Michael Swallow (13 points), Jackson Paige (12), and Ben Kuhnen (10) led the offensive effort in the freshman game. In the JV game, four players -- Hakeem Zayed (12 points), Jamal Mansour (11), Jaden Charney (10), Julian Patti (10) -- notched double figures in a contest that saw the Pirates clock a monster 23-11 third quarter.
THE NOT-SO-CHARITABLE STRIPE: Rocky River shot just 53.1% (34-of-64) from the free-throw line over its four-game losing streak. With Friday's performance in the books, the Pirates are now 42-for-their-last-87 (48.3%) at the line. ... On Friday, however, all was well north of the 15-foot stripe: the Pirates scored a season-high 34 points in the paint.
ON DECK: Friday's game in North Olmsted marked the front end of a weekend back-to-back for the Maroon & White. Rocky River will host Lincoln West in a non-conference game Saturday night at 6:30 p.m.
by Skip Snow
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