Rocky River City Schools News Article

March mayhem! Pirates deal Cards out of the playoffs with 65-62 upset at Brookside

Hakeem Zayed

SHEFFIELD LAKE, Ohio (March 1, 2024) -- River's rockin' roll through the Buckeye State playoffs continues. After defeating Northeast District No. 15-seed Brookside in a tense and thrilling tussle Friday, the Rocky River Pirates are headed for a district semifinal.

Friday's contest was a wild one played in a tremendous atmosphere at Brookside High School, a venue that had seen a high-flying Cardinals team go 10-2 over a dozen previous games this season. Getting a gutsy all-around performance from every Pirate on the floor, River held off a furious charge and defeated Brookside 65-62.

"This was just a great environment for playoff hoops," said coach Mike Murray, whose Double-R squad has now won six straight games with two of those now coming against lower seeds in DII Northeast 4 bracket action. "It was loud, and the fans on both sides had a lot to cheer for. I'm so proud of the way our guys gave everything they had to defend and rebound and do all the little things that we continue to do during this win streak."  

More then a few Cardinals and Pirates will be nursing floor burns this weekend. The game was tough and physical and marked by 5-on-5 heart and hustle from the outset. The Pirates leveraged a strong 11-3 run to close out the second quarter, and managed to take an eight-point lead (29-21) into halftime.  

Rocky River -- the No. 36-seed in the Northeast 4 bracket -- got a 3-point play from Hakeem Zayed to open the third period. And the third was a solid frame for the Pirates (15-9); they went into the fourth leading 42-33.

A slew of free throws got the Cardinals within shouting distance over the first few minutes of the fourth. River countered with a 7-1 run paced by Jaden Charney and Zayed. Charney gave the Buccaneers a dogged, determined effort in perimeter defense all night. He and his fellow Sons of Blackbeard would time and again be challenged by Brookside guards launching 3s and driving into the lane.  

On multiple occasions, the Cardinals whittled their deficit to six. They got within three (58-55) on a Liam Trowbridge triple at the 2:20-mark. But again, the Raiders were resolute in pushing back. A big Jeff Maslar bucket -- one of three momentum daggers wielded by the junior forward on the night -- vaulted the visitors back into a six-point lead (62-56) inside the two-minute mark.

Brookside (16-7) guard Brandon Sharpe torched River for 12 points in the final frame. A big Sharpe jumper in close was followed by a bucket off a Pirate turnover, and the Cardinals found themselves down just two (62-60) with 67 seconds remaining.

Those final 47 ticks were accompanied by deafening roars from a crowd that had already for 90 minutes been tossed about on the ebb and flow of the game's momentum and the sheer quickness, will , and hustle on display up and down the floor. And those 47 seconds were accompanied by a Nolan Waechter bucket for the Cardinals and three Julian Patti free-throw tosses for the Pirates.

A desperation heave did not find twine at the buzzer, and then the Pirates found each other on the floor. In exhausted elation, they celebrated.

Celebrated on the very floorboards they had sped across and defended every inch of -- to the hilt -- in whatever five-man combination of players Mike Murray could dream up.

And that was heart of Rocky River's improbable and heart-stopping triumph Friday night: whatever the Pirates needed, whoever was on the hardwood stepped up and made a play.

Patti went 8-of-10 at the line in the fourth (and 10-of-13 for the game) en route to scoring 14 points. Hakeem Zayed scored six points in the fourth and 12 on the night. His play and both ends and in every facet of the game was clutch and much-needed.

Ryan Ricketti filed 10 points and numerous key defensive plays, while giving the Double-R a physical presence early. Charney went 5-for-6 at the line in the second life and had eight points for the game. Maslar also finished with 8P, knocking down a pair of treys along the way.

Gio Lizzini had one of the more impactful 3-point nights you'll ever see. Lizzini's hustle and tenacity on the boards helped the Pirates keep the Cardinals from getting much-needed second-chance attempts after misses.

Danny Berg (3P) and Michael Swallow (7P) gave River rock-solid ballhandling touches on a floor swirling with emotion and a tangle of would-be basketball thieves.  

Sharpe logged a game-high 29P for the home five. He and Waechter (17P) were a dangerous duo and made every two-possession Pirate lead feel like a tie game was right around the corner.

But the Pirates prevailed, and now what's around the corner is a visit to North Ridgeville High School, site of the Northeast 4 final four. On Thursday, the Sons of Blackbeard will tangle with No. 24 Warren Howland -- which downed No. 19 Madison 72-43 Friday -- in a 7 p.m. contest with a trip to the district title game (March 9) on the line.

All it took was every ounce of effort in the loudest gym this team every played in. Against a talented Cardinal five battling just as hard.

Every Pirate gave that measure across every inch of the hardwood Friday. And it was spectacular.

by Skip Snow

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