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Rremarkable! Rocky River wins floorboard war against Westlake 54-48
RR Boys Basketball
ROCKY RIVER, Ohio (Dec. 16. 2022) -- A taut, tense affair between west-side neighbors on a charged Friday night at Rocky River Gymnasium -- one that included mostly gritty, sometimes pretty, and for every second hotly contested, hard-fought basketball -- resulted in a 54-48 Rocky River victory over Westlake. In a game that went past regulation. After a desperation comeback by the Pirates. And then an impressive comeback by the visitors. And then a buzzer-beating triple to level the game at the end of the fourth quarter.

In claymation Christmas parlance, call it the Overtime Triumph That Almost Wasn't.

Rocky River hustled and muscled its way to a victory in this one. And this is no one-sided, maroon-colored reflection: Westlake matched -- and for the much of the game exceeded -- every bit of hard-nosed tenacity River could muster.

It was a perfect storm for a wildly entertaining basketball game. A week-before-the-holiday date on the calendar: an ideal time for getting some alumni back at the Pirate Palestra. Throngs of fans wearing both maroon and green, with the note green side making the short trip in from just-across Clague Rd. Exuberant support from both student bodies. A few whistles after which there was not uniform agreement as to the accuracy of infractions signaled. Athletes playing with a lot of passion. And a see-saw exchange of electric digits hopping back and forth from one side of the scoreboard to the other.

Shooting percentages were perhaps predictably low in an opening quarter that saw the Pirates outscore the Demons 10-8 on that board. In the second stanza, Westlake (2-2, 1-1 Great Lakes Conference West) shot 50% and passed and rebounded its way to doubling up the home five 14-7. Sharp two-way play by sophomore center Sam Brucchieri, junior forward Derek Occhipinti, and senior guard Will Ostrowski lifted the Demons to a 22-17 edge at halftime. Rocky River toted a 7-of-26 (26.9%) shooting mark into its locker room.

Westlake scored the first two buckets of the third quarter to reach the largest lead for either side all night, a nine-point (26-17) highwater mark. Improved shooting, relentless rebounding, and key points off turnovers would help the Sons of Blackbeard outscore the Demons 37-22 the rest of the way.  

"We were working hard to get good looks," said coach Mike Murray, whose River Five had lost three games by 20-plus points to Westlake across the last couple seasons. "Eventually, we started to get some shots to drop. But all credit to Westlake, too. They defended so well. Both teams showed a ton of heart."

With a 3-pointer at the 4:10-mark of the third, senior guard Censier Williams capped off an 8-0 River run, and the Westlake lead had been whittled to one (26-25). Rocky River would eventually work the contest into a tie by the time the end-of-the-third horn broke through the sounds of the raucous crowd. A half-a-moment before that horn, the leather sphere had been in the determined shooting hand of junior Jaden Charney. The Pirate guard scored on a nifty, buzzer-beating endline play to entangle the scoreboard digits at 34-34.  

A Williams 3-point play opened scoring in the fourth. That effort was part of River beginning the frame with a determined 9-2 run on the strength of hard-nosed rebounding and a couple takeaways. But the Demons would battle back.

Westlake got within one -- at 43-42 -- by the 1:34 mark. The Demons vaulted in front (44-43) on a short Jackson Moore jumper at 1:05. A frenzied exchange of turnovers ensued. Occhipinti knocked down a couple clutch free throws with about 13 seconds remaining. One last gasp for Rocky River saw the Pirates circuit the ball around the floor -- from Hakeem Zayed to Gavin O'Brien to Will DeClerck -- and into the waiting hands of sophomore guard Michael Swallow.

Swallow caught the ball, his feet a good foot-and-a-half behind the 3-point arc on the left wing. He launched the game-tying attempt. The arching shot splashed into the bottom of the nylon netting with room to spare all the way around. Addition by swishin' -- and of the 3-point variety, with just under-2 seconds remaining. No desperation heave would save the Demons from overtime.

The overtime matched the tensity of the first 32 minutes. Two big buckets were scored by junior forward Ryan Ricketti. Both were set by alert passes, one from DeClerck and the other from O'Brien. The rest of the session amounted to a trade at the free-throw line. River went 4-of-7 on its uncontested 15-footers in the overtime (O'Brien hit all four made shots). The Pirates' overall 11-of-21 (52.4%) performance at the line was nearly very costly.

It was a tenacious tussle at the Corner of Wagar & Detroit. And the Pirates (4-0, 2-0) emerged victorious, running their season-opening record to 4-0 for the first time since 2018.


From the field, Rocky River shot 33.3% (19-of-57); Westlake shot 28.1% (16-of-57), The Demons went 12-of-16 (75%) on free throws. River out-rebounded WHS 44-40. Turnovers were an even 18-fo-18 exchange. The Buccaneers registered five blocked shots. ... Individually, the Pirates were paced by Censier Williams (14 points, three steals), Gavin O'Brien (9P, three assists, 3S), and Will DeClerck (7P, eight rebounds). Junior guard Hakeem Zayed logged his first start of the season and was a game-high plus-13 in 32 minutes of action. Zayed had 2P, 9R, and four blocked shots. ... Will Ostrowski had 13P and 6A for the Demons. Sam Brucchieri added 12P and 11R.

NOTABLE: With its Friday win over Westlake, Rocky River is now 3-0 this season at home. Dating back to last season, the Roundball Raiders have won eight in a row at the Pirate Palestra.

QUOTABLE: "Our guys showed a lot of confidence in each other tonight. And a growing sense of confidence they could make big plays at the end of the game. This experience will help as as we continue to build." -- coach Mike Murray.

by Skip Snow

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