ROCKY RIVER, Ohio -- Rocky River played its best game of the season Saturday night. Hosting a talented Bay Rockets five that had beaten River four times in a row and in 15-of-the-last-16 War-by-the-Shore rivalry games, the Pirates broke through with a masterful performance in all facets of the game. They did so in a charged atmosphere at Rocky River Gymnasium and came away with a 79-67 triumph.
Oh, and it was Senior Night by the way.
After a pregame salute noting the accolades of cheerleader Lilly Newton and a half-dozen Pirate Graybeards, the senior six went to work on a Bay bunch that had bested them handily in Bay Village on Jan. 11. The River Raiders would close out that game on a 17-9 run just to lose by eight, 63-55. But on Saturday, a hustling home side gave the impression of simply continuing that run some 25 days later.
Senior guard Ian Tomsik scored five of River's first six points, as the Pirates (9-8, 4-6 Great Lakes Conference West Division) opened a 6-2 lead and eventually an 18-11 advantage at the outset of the game. The Double-R went 7-of-11 from the floor and came up with four steals in a big opening quarter that ended with River leading Bay 18-13. Tomsik and fellow seniors Justin Gina and Patrick Lange helped lead the emotional Senior Night surge. All three were in on key steals, lunch-pail rebounding efforts, and big buckets.
The Rockets twice got within four over the early minutes of the second quarter, but a sharp-shooting River five responded with a late surge. The final minutes of the first half included a 3-point play by senior forward Robby Lang and then, moments later off a long pass from senior guard Braedon Spies, a thunderous slam dunk by Lang to lift the Pirates to a 41-29 cushion. A River squad which has often scuffled at the line this season went 7-of-7 on second-quarter free throws. The Pirates went 8-of-13 (61.5%) from the floor and toted a 43-32 lead into halftime.
In the third stanza, River guards endured swarming pressure applied by a desperate Bay group. The Rockets were able to force some turnovers but couldn't capitalize at the offensive end. The Buccaneers countered with a 10-1 run; the Rockets answered with a late-quarter push but still trailed by 15 (59-44) when the fourth quarter got underway.
And then the Rockets blasted back into the game with a high-energy 17-6 run to open the fourth. Junior forward Cade Gergye keyed that surge as part of his scoring a team-high 16 points for Bay.
The Pirates led 65-61 at the 2:41-mark of the fourth. And the visitors had every ounce of momentum on their side. And then something changed at the 2:40 mark.
Spies drained a monster triple, vaulting the Pirates to a seven-point lead (68-61) and turning the Double-R student section into bedlam. Any buckets the rest of the way paled in comparison to the Spies dagger. Most were of the 1-point variety, and most were scored the side wearing home whites.
Over the last two minutes-and-40 seconds, the Pirates withstood tremendous pressure defense to outscore the Rockets 14-6. Robby Lang logged the final four points of a night that saw him score a career-high 31 on a powerful 12-of-16 shooting performance. Lang had 13 rebounds in a game in which River out-rebounded Bay 37-23.
"Robby demanded the ball all night," said head coach Mike Murray, whose Pirates are now 3-1 over their last four games. "We were able to play through the post which makes us a much tougher team."
Braedon Spies finished with 15 points and eight boards. Ian Tomsik and sophomore guard Julian Patti clocked 12 and eight points, respectively. Justin Gina filed a career-high nine assists and was dialed in on both ends of the floor. Gina and Spies registered plus-18s in the plus/minus department.
And for the Rocky River program, file away Saturday night as a plus-12 on the scoreboard. And a victorious minus-6 at the end, first with Braedon Spies walking off the floor in a salute by way of substitution. And then, with senior forward Zach Wearsch, Gina, Lang, Lange, and Tomsik heading to the River bench a minute later.
The final ticks of the hard-fought battle included each name being announced over the loudspeaker as the players exited the floor. For each, it was one final War by the Shore.
And each name was met with a Roar by the Shore.
CANNON FIRE ...
NOTABLE: For the game, Rocky River shot a robust 54.2% (26-of-48) in scoring a season-high 79 points. Bay went 21-of-50 (42%) from the floor. In a physical tussle, the two teams combined for 62 free-throw attempts. The Pirates went 23-of-36 (63.9%) on their uncontested 15-footers; the Rockets went 17-of-26 (65.4%). ... River's 79 points marked their most against Bay since Jan. 4, 2019 (83).
QUOTABLE: "We hade some big contributions from our seniors. Obviously, Robby got going and Braedon giving us 15 points and eight boards was huge for us. They have been big for us all year. Ian and Justin scoring and creating offense were so important. I thought Patrick and Zach also helped set the tone, even before the game. Our guys came out aggressive from the start." -- Mike Murray
by Skip Snow
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