ROCKY RIVER — With 2:22 remaining, Ceeven Sullivan converted a layup off a steal to give Elyria Catholic a one-point lead.
Those would be the last points the Panthers scored in Wednesday night’s West Shore Conference makeup game at Rocky River.
The Pirates outscored EC 6-0 over the final two minutes, going 6-for-6 from the free throw line and getting three clutch defensive stops on the way to a hard-fought 57-52 win.
Rocky River improves to 3-12 (3-6), while EC falls to 7-7 (4-5) with its fourth straight loss.
“I wasn’t happy with the way we played at certain times of the game,” EC coach Phil Kuchta said.
“I thought Rocky River did a good job of taking us out of what we wanted to do. We didn’t do a good job of handling their zone at times. I thought, at times, we played good and there were other times where we completely came unglued as a team, for whatever reason.
“We can say that we were off since Friday (because of the weather), but we’re not making any excuses. We talked about that with the kids before the game. We wanted to get out of here with a win.”
It was EC that took control from the get-go, racing out to a 15-8 after one quarter and expanding that lead to 20-12 with 5:28 left in the first half. But the Pirates responded with nine unanswered points to claim their first lead of the game, 21-20, with 3:29 remaining.
Jeremy Holley’s putback capped a 17-point first half and gave the Panthers a 21-20 halftime lead. Holley finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds — both game-highs — but it wasn’t enough in the end.
“Our game plan certainly was to get the ball inside to Jeremy,” Kuchta said. “I just think that, when push came to shove, we just couldn’t get stops defensively. We turned the ball over at the wrong times, and it cost us.
“We try to play inside-out typically, and tonight we didn’t shoot the ball from the outside particularly well. I don’t think we attempted very many 3-pointers (2-for-13) tonight, for whatever reason. Jeremy had 17 points in the first half, but it seemed like they took that away from us in the second half.”
Trailing 36-29 late in the third quarter, Rocky River stormed back with a 13-3 run to claim a 42-39 lead early in the fourth. Pirates coach Mike Murray said getting that fourth-quarter lead was a big key.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games against a lot of quality opponents and we’ve usually found a way to lose them,” Murray said. “To pull out a victory tonight really helps our kids’ confidence as we get through this last stretch of the season and into tournament time.
“I thought we did a nice job getting deflections. We did a much better rebounding job in the second half. EC’s very athletic and very talented and Holley just has a great motor. He’s relentless. I thought we did a much better job of getting some second-chance opportunities. The big key was we were able to control the ball over the last three minutes — run some offense and get to the line and knock those down.”
Shelton’s layup capped a six-point fourth quarter and a 7-0 run for the Panthers, turning a 51-45 deficit into a 52-51 lead. But down the stretch, Holley committed a turnover underneath the basket, Jacob Kuchta missed a midrange jumper with his team trailing by one, and Angelo Cruz missed a 3-pointer with the Panthers trailing by three with seven seconds left.
“We just weren’t able to get stops,” Kuchta said. “Eric Jones had a good fourth quarter. Charlie Swartz hit a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter that I thought was huge for them. Give them credit. They did what they had to do to win, and it’s very disappointing that we didn’t do what we had to do to come out of here with a win.
“We thought it might be an ugly game, but no matter what it looked like or what it took, we wanted to get out of here with a win. But we’re 7-7 and we’ve had a lot of close games. There are times where we’ve looked very, very good, and there’s other times where we’ve come unglued. Tonight’s game pretty much sums up our season to this point.”
Kuchta and Shelton each finished with 11 points apiece to give EC three double-digit scorers. But the Panthers only got two points from their bench.
For Rocky River, sophomore reserve Jack Corrigan led the way with 16 points on a 7-for-9 shooting night, while Patrick Connors added 13 and Jones finished with 10, including going 4-for-4 from the line down the stretch.
“As the coach, I take responsibility for our play,” Kuchta said. “Whether it’s the substitutions, the wrong combinations, whatever, we have to be more consistent on both ends of the floor because we did not get that done tonight.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rocky River 57, Elyria Catholic 52
ELYRIA CATHOLIC (52): Jeremy Holley 10-4-24, Ceeven Shelton
5-0-11, Jacob Kuchta 3-4-11, D.J. Graham 0-2-2, Conner Riddell 1-0-2, Darin Guice 0-2-2, Kevin Kelley 0-0-0, Angelo Cruz 0-0-0, Drew Kaplan 0-0-0, Cole Virgin 0-0-0, James Tirbaso 0-0-0. Totals 19-13-52.
ROCKY RIVER (57): Patrick Connors 6-1-13, Eric Jones 3-4-10, Mitchell Williams 1-0-2, Bernard Frohnapple 0-1-1, Jimmy Kinsley 0-0-0, Jack Corrigan 7-2-16, Nathan Seffernick 3-0-6, Charlie Swartz 2-0-5, Jackson Farling 2-0-4. Totals 24-8-57.
Elyria Catholic 15 11 13 13 — 52
Rocky River 8 17 15 17 — 57
Three-point goals: Elyria Catholic 2-13 (Shelton, Kuchta), Rocky River 1-5 (Swartz). Field goals: Elyria Catholic 19-51 (37 percent), Rocky River 24-44 (55 percent). Free throws: Elyria Catholic 13-16 (81 percent), Rocky River 8-11 (73 percent). Rebounds: Elyria Catholic 29 (Holley 13), Rocky River 28 (Frohnapple 5). Turnovers: Elyria Catholic 15, Rocky River 16. Total fouls: Elyria Catholic 15, Rocky River 15.
Junior varsity: Elyria Catholic, 46-32