ELYRIA — Elyria Catholic used a huge third-quarter run to overcome a rough first half and tie the score Tuesday night against Rocky River.
It wasn’t enough.
The Pirates used a strong defense and some good free throw shooting to come away with a hard-fought 47-44 West Shore Conference victory at the EC Coliseum.
Rocky River improves to 5-5 and 5-1, while Elyria Catholic falls to 3-7 and 2-4.
The Pirates made 10 of 17 free throws in the fourth quarter and sank 14-of-24 on the night. They were limited to just three field goals in the final eight minutes, but their free throw shooting saved the day.
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“You’ve got to credit EC first,” said Rocky River coach Mike Murray, a North Ridgeville resident and former Rangers girls hoops coach. “I thought their kids really took it to us in the second half, and they got some fast-break opportunities and were running the court really well.
“We made some mistakes handling the basketball and they got right back in the game. We just tried to get our kids to settle down and play some fundamental basketball, and I thought we made some great plays at the end to get some quality shots and get to the line as well.”
Elyria Catholic trailed 25-17 at halftime, and that deficit swelled to 30-20 following a 3-pointer from Ryan McCrone with just over four minutes remaining.
But the Panthers, who were held without a field goal from the 2:15 mark of the second quarter until 4:48 remained in the third, started to chip away at that lead, thanks to forced turnovers and smart offensive possessions.
Reserve Xavier Bennett started the run with a layup, followed by a pair of free throws by John Stursa, who led the Panthers with 12 points, with 3:29 remaining.
Reserve D.J. Graham followed with a layup, and senior reserve Cory Strasko’s layup with 2:11 remaining suddenly made it a two-point game.
With 48 seconds left in the quarter, Strasko connected again from short range to tie the score at 30, capping a 10-0 run.
“We actually didn’t start the third quarter that well,” said EC assistant coach Josh Backo, who was filling in for head coach Jason Smith. “But we had some guys come off the bench and spark us a little bit. We switched up some defenses on them. We knew we really wanted to get after them and go full-out, try to get some traps in the backcourt to see if we could get some tips and steals, try to wreak a little havoc there.
“We had some really good efforts from guys that came off the bench there like Cory Strasko and Conner Riddell. Those are two kids that will just sell out for you on the defensive end, and I thought they did a great job for us. We got a couple turnovers here and there and were able to put the ball in the basket.”
Rocky River’s leading scorer, 6-foot-4 senior Thomas McNamara, sat out a big chunk of the third quarter due to foul trouble. His return in the fourth quarter helped give the Pirates a spark, especially since he went 3-for-4 from the free throw line and finished with 12 points.
Pirates reserve Alex Schade opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to give his team the lead, a lead they never relinquished over the final eight minutes. The closest EC got was when Stursa sank a pair of free throws with 4:30 remaining to cut the deficit to 36-34, but Rocky River scored six unanswered points.
EC did cut the deficit to 43-40 with 1:12 to go on a layup by Dan Whitacre, who was fouled on the play, but Whitacre missed the foul shot and the Pirates sank four of six free throws over the final minute to salt the game away.
“Unfortunately, we just couldn’t get it done at the end of the game,” Backo said. “They’re a big physical team and you know what you’re going to get from a Rocky River team — great man-to-man defense and Coach Murray has them running up and down and playing a hard-nosed physical ballgame.”
Rocky River 47, Elyria Catholic 44
ROCKY RIVER (47): Thomas McNamara 4-4-12, Ryan McCrone 2-3-9, Patrick Connors 2-1-5, Richard Bremkamp 0-0-0, Michael Dickey 0-0-0, Alex Schade 3-0-8, Alec Hallal 2-3-7, Eric Jones 1-3-6, Kevin Hervey 0-0-0, Alex Theiling 0-0-0. Totals 14-14-47.
ELYRIA CATHOLIC (44): John Stursa 3-6-12, Dan Whitacre 3-2-11, Ceeven Shelton 2-2-6, Tyler Riddell 1-0-2, Angelo Cruz 0-0-0, Cory Strasko 3-0-6, Conner Riddell 1-0-3, Xavier Bennett 1-0-2, D.J. Graham 1-0-2, James Tirbaso 0-0-0. Totals 16-10-44.
Rocky River 16 9 5 17 — 47
Elyria Catholic 12 5 13 14 — 44
Three-point goals: Rocky River 5-12 (McCrone 2, Schade 2, Jones), Elyria Catholic 2-9 (Whitacre, C. Riddell); Field goals: Rocky River 14-41 (34 percent), Elyria Catholic 16-43 (37 percent); Free throws: Rocky River 14-24 (58 percent), Elyria Catholic 10-18 (56 percent); Rebounds: Rocky River 37 (Hallal 9, McNamara 5), Elyria Catholic 34 (Whitacre 7); Turnovers: Rocky River 19, Elyria Catholic 19; Fouled out: Strasko.
Junior varsity: Elyria Catholic, 48-40.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.