ROCKY RIVER, Ohio (Dec. 2, 2022) -- Rocky River rode a stellar opening-night defensive performance and an exuberant home crowd to a 43-29 victory over Willoughby South Friday night.
The Pirates (1-0) got a double-double (20 points, 11 rebounds) from senior center Will DeClerck, and they held the visiting Rebels to an 11-of-48 (22.9%) shooting performance. The 29 points allowed marked the fewest a River team has yielded in a single game since Feb. 2, 2019 (28 vs. Oberlin).
"Both teams did a great job pressuring the ball," said Mike Murray, who opened his 13th season at the helm of the program -- and his 25th as a head coach -- with Friday's game. "I thought our guys did a great job fighting through the pressure to get the ball inside. We thought that would be a key going in."
Rocky River worked the ball inside to the tune of 32 points in the paint. Most of those came from DeClerck and fellow senior Jamal Mansour, who was River's second-leading scorer with nine points. For the game, the Pirates went 16-of-29 (55.2%) on attempts from the paint, and that helped mitigate any losses on an 0-for-9 night from 3-point range. Overall, Rocky River shot 40.9%.
The defensive struggle was engaged from the opening tip, and only 13 total points were scored in an opening quarter taken by the visitors 7-6. But the Sons of Blackbeard broke through for two decisive frames over the second and third. Across those two periods, the Pirates outscored the Rebels 25-16.
Shots were highly contested throughout, and athletic steals and blocked shots were a near-even exchange, but the Pirates were more productive turning miscues into buckets. River outscored South 15-10 in points off turnovers.
River turned a 3-point edge at halftime (18-15) into a 31-23 cushion by the end of the third quarter. The Pirate bench was effective at both ends of the floor in the fourth, and for the game the Double-R had eight players log two-or-more-points. Six of those Pirates also tallied one-or-more steals. The up-and-down-the-roster effort made for a charged atmosphere in the Cozy Hardwood Confines of Rocky River Gymnasium.
DeClerck filed his 20-point night -- eclipsing his career-high by 13 -- on 9-of-16 shooting from the floor. Six of his rebounds were at the offensive end, and the Pirates' varsity soccer goalkeeper also protected the River goal by blocking two shots. DeClerck was a team-best plus-16 in his 31 minutes of playing time.
Junior guard Julian Patti had four points and nine rebounds and was a plus-11 in 32 minutes. Guards Jaden Charney and Gavin O'Brien paced the Pirate defense with three steals each.
Bryce Figler had six points and three assists in a losing effort for the Rebels (0-2).
The River win marks victories in back-to-back season openers for the first time since 2014-15.
The Pirates will get back to action next Friday when they travel to North Olmsted to open Great Lakes Conference West Division play in a 7 p.m. tilt against the Eagles.
CANNON FIRE ...
RIVER RETURNEES: The 2022-23 Pirates return three starters and six lettermen from a squad that went 13-10 last season. Rocky River got off to a slow start in 2021-22, but the Roundball Raiders closed out the season with six wins over their last eight games. River averaged 55.8 points per game while yielding 54.3. ... The Pirates do lose their top two scorers from a year ago, Robby Lang (14 PPG) and Braedon Spies (12 PPG). The program's top returning scorer is Gavin O'Brien, who tallied 6.3 PPG last season.
PIRATE GREYBEARDS: The Double-R roster is chock full of seniors this winter. There are seven seniors on the team; they are Will DeClerck, Kevin Dumfeh, Stan Heuler, O'Brien, Jamal Mansour, Marshall Walker, and Censier Williams. The River captains this season are DeClerck, O'Brien, and Williams.
by Skip Snow
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