Rocky River City Schools News Article

It was a ball, but 23-24 season ends with tourney loss

RR Boys Basketball

NORTH RIDGEVILLE, Ohio (March 7, 2024) -- Rocky River's 2023-24 campaign came to a close Thursday, as the Pirates were ousted from the Buckeye State tournament after a hard-fought 47-44 loss to the Warren Howland Tigers in a DII Northeast District bracket semifinal. [bracket]

Howland, a sturdy defensive five that had allowed just 46.2 points per game heading into Thursday, erected a Bengal barricade around the paint. The now-14-11 Tigers were resolute in defending along the perimeter and walling off entry passes down low. The Howland defense was there not to force turnovers  so much as less-than-optimal shot attempts. And the Tigers prevailed, holding the Pirates to a lackluster performance from the field.

The Pirates (15-10) jumped out to a 6-0 start when Jaden Charney and Michael Swallow knocked down triples on River's first two shot attempts of the night. But the Buccaneers suffered through off-kilter shooting most of the rest of the game. The Tigers would hold the Pirates to just 38 more points the rest of the way.

Both teams exhibited hardscrabble defense over the balance of the first quarter, and shooting percentages paid the price. The Maroon & White toted a 10-7 lead into the second stanza. That lead was erased right away when Steven Bubon drained a 3 to open the second period.

Bubon's trey ended up being the start of a 10-2 run for the Tigers. Howland would hit three from distance in the second, and it leveraged those bombs in building a 20-18 halftime advantage.

The 24th-seeded Tigers extended their lead with a big third quarter, one dominated by senior forward John Perry. The athletic, 6-foot-5 Perry was set up with a slew of good looks in the third. His 3-point play at the two-minute mark of the third capped off a 15-6 run for Howland. With Perry netting 12 points, the Tigers opened up a lead to match (38-26) by the end of the frame.

Julian Patti, Hakeem Zayed, and Danny Berg were the lead edge of a Pirate sword that cut its way back to a five-point deficit (38-33) by the 5:20-mark of the fourth. The next three minutes of action made for a near-even exchange, but when Patti found twine on a 3-pointer at 2:15, No. 36 Rocky River found itself tangled with the Tigers in a one-point (45-44) basketball game. Over the final 135 seconds, the Tiger defense showed its stripes and the Sons of Blackbeard were held scoreless. River had a late turnover, but the door for a late-game tie was left open by some missed Howland tosses from the free-throw line (the Tigers went 8/19, 42.1%, at the line for the game). But the Pirates mobilized no more digits on the North Ridgeville Gymnasium.

With no more swishes, a swashbuckling, six-game Raider win streak -- including two tremendous bracket triumphs -- came to an end.  

Howland now moves on to a Northeast 4 district title game. The Tigers will take on Lutheran West, the No. 1 overall Northeast District seed, Saturday at 4 p.m. at North Ridgeville High School.

Howland's John Perry finished with a game-high 19 points Thursday. Anthony Chieffo tallied 7P, and T.J. Douglas added 6P.

River's leading scorers were Julian Patti and Michael Swallow, with 18P and 9P, respectively. [Complete stats unavailable at time of publication.]

"Our guys battled hard," said coach Mike Murray, whose River five went 9-3 in its last 12 games, "but Howland's great run in the third put us in too deep a hole. Still, I am so proud of how these guys came together and played hard for each other and for the name on the front of our jerseys."

Those River jerseys included six worn by seniors Jaden Charney, Gio Lizzini, Julian Patti, Ryan Ricketti, Joe Schill, and Hakeem Zayed. That group of Pirate Greybeards helped propel the Double-R to its most wins in a single season since 2018-19 (15-9). And they came up just for points shy of what would have been the program's longest win streak in 13 years.  

The 2023-24 season was one that saw two wins over rival Bay, the second of which came on a 55-foot buzzer beater. It bore witness to a turn-back-the-clock tussle in the Hoosier State, an impressive late-season win streak, a Senior Night triumph, a 350th career win for Murray, and an outright Great Lakes Conference West Division title.

That the season came to a close without the Pirates getting a clutch basket in this one game does not change one incontrovertible fact: this season was a ball.

by Skip Snow

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