ROCKY RIVER, Ohio (Jan. 27, 2023) -- Rocky River reeled in an impressive win Friday night at a packed Rocky River Gymnasium, as the Pirates defeated the Elyria Catholic Panthers 64-53.
The River victory came on Senior Night for the program. Pirate Greybeards Will DeClerck, Kevin Dumfeh, Stan Heuler, Jamal Mansour, Gavin O'Brien, Marshall Walker, and Censier Williams (along with senior cheerleaders Meghan Durkin, Alaya Price, and Ava Romell) were honored in a pregame salute. And the win came against an Elyria Catholic team that had won six consecutive Great Lakes Conference West Division games, including a Jan. 6 win (67-55) over the Pirates.
Senior nights are a lot about those being honored wanting to perform on "their" night. But Friday's game at the Pirate Palestra was also very much about one of the more unsung parts of such games, a part perhaps more emblematic of the team cultures seniors are so much a part of: and that's the juniors -- the next men up -- and underclassmen wanting to earn a win for the seniors on their night. That desire to knock off a talented EC team as a tribute was very much on display in what was a charged atmosphere at the Corner of Wagar Detroit.
Early contributions by O'Brien, Williams, and Mansour had River up 6-4 in the early going, but the Panthers countered with with a 6-0 fueled by senior forward Colin Kenneally. They would eventually close out the first period with a 12-10 lead.
In the second quarter, Rocky River (9-6, 5-4 GLC West) found itself down 19-16 when Dumfeh got things going with a strong offensive rebound and an ensuing pair of free throws. Then it was time for the young Bucs to step up, harness the senior steam, and lift River to a halftime lead. Over the final minutes of the second, the Pirates got tremendous plays at both ends by juniors Jaden Charney, Julian Patti, Ryan Ricketti, and Hakeem Zayed and by sophomore Michael Swallow.
Fast, gritty, hard-nosed play from that group yielded an appropriate tally, a football-like 13-7 run to get the Buccaneers to the break with a five-point lead (31-26).
In the third quarter, big 3-pointers -- the kind that swell jammed gymnasiums with elation and dread, and in this case, drained by Messrs. Zayed and Charney -- vaulted the River advantage higher still, until the Panthers pushed back late in the third. The GLC West foes went into the fourth with River leading 45-42.
Will DeClerck provided the first bucket of the fourth, and it was a much-needed response from a Pirate senior to put the reins on the Panther momentum. The Double-R veteran then scored another basket, sandwiched between a couple powerful rebounds, and the Maroon & White contingent in the gym began to overpower the green. The Pirates could taste a sweet Senior Night win and so could their fans.
The Panthers did get within three -- at 55-52 -- by the mid-point of the fourth. But the push-back that surge got from a Pirate horde with all hands on deck was emphatic.
And decisive. With contributions from Charney, DeClerck, Patti, and Ricketti, Rocky River played out the final four minutes with a multi-score lead all the way. The last recorded play in the book was, aptly, a bit of Greybeard Pirate thievery with Gavin O'Brien logging a steal. And River reached the finish line with a 64-53 triumph.
The Double-R win snapped a three-game win streak in a series that since 2010 is now tied 13-13.
"This was a great time celebrating our seniors tonight," said coach Mike Murray. "Guys were hustling all night at both ends, and they took a lot of energy from the crowd."
It was indeed much support for the Sons of Blackbeard, especially for the eldest ones. Almost as much as they gave each other.
CANNON FIRE ...
FROM THE BUCS SCORE: Rocky River outshot Elyria Catholic 53% to 33% from the floor. Exchanges from beyond the arc and at the free-throw line were near-even. River was a minus-5 on the boards (EC 36 rebounds, RR 31) and a minus-2 in turnovers (14, 16). ... Individually, the Pirates got a career-high 18 points from Jaden Charney, who went 6-of-8 from the field. Hakeem Zayed chipped in with nine points and five rebounds. Ryan Ricketti had eight points. Julian Patti ledgered 7P and 4R. Will DeClerck (5P, 11R) and Gavin O'Brien (5P) paced the seniors. Thomas Niederst led the Panthers with 23P, 10R, and six assists. Colin Kenneally filed 11P and 7R (including 5 offensive rebounds).
ON THE HORIZON: The Pirates will host the Avon Eagles in a Tuesday night (7 p.m.) non-conference game at Rocky River Gymnasium.
by Skip Snow
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