By Corey J. Corbin
Allied News Sports Correspondent
MERCER COUNTY AREA —
GROVE CITY – The Grove City Eagles saved their best for last Saturday night.
After scoring a combined 24 points through the game’s first three quarters, the Eagles (1-4, 3-7) scored 22 points in the pivotal fourth quarter to slip past backyard rival Slippery Rock (0-4, 0-9) 46-36 at The Eagles’ Nest in Region 5AAA action.
“It wasn’t a very pretty game,” Grove City coach Don Fee said. “Our backyard rival came in here and both teams were feeling the pressure to get a (region) win, but it was what it was. We felt we were better than them if we played like we were capable. I’m not saying they’re a bad team, because they’ve played other people pretty tough. They haven’t won a game, but they’re going to get somebody. It certainly could’ve been us tonight.”
The way the Eagles played in the second and third quarters, it certainly could have been the Eagles.
Grove City managed just four shots (making three) and committed eight turnovers in the second quarter and then could only knock down 1-of-9 shots in the third quarter as Slippery Rock turned a 14-9 deficit into a 29-24 advantage.
“We weren’t executing like we’re capable of,” Fee said. “We acted like we were surprised at the 2-2-1 press. That’s what we do. We practice against it in practice. We needed to be prepared for the zone and we were, but they still seemed shell-shocked when (Slippery Rock) came out in it. We had trouble changing gears. It was frustrating from my standpoint.
“We lost our minds. There was no synchronization in our offense. There was so much confusion. We have to do a better job. We don’t run near the same stuff as we used to. There’s no excuse for it, but our timing against (Slippery Rock’s defense) was atrocious early on. In the one zone offense, we weren’t hitting the guy in the middle. We weren’t throwing the ball where it needed to be thrown. We kept throwing it around the perimeter then we’d chuck up a shot. That was disappointing.”
Sparked by seven points from Foster Reznor and another five from Derek Turner, the Eagles were re-energized by a 13-2 run to start the fourth quarter.
“Thank goodness, we came alive in the fourth quarter and ran our offense a little better,” Fee said. “We got a lead, forced a couple of turnovers and got over the hump. The kids sucked it up in the fourth quarter and turned the table. We were lucky to finish it off. That’s the thing that I’m most pleased with. We were able to make some plays to get over the hump and realize it was a must-win. They got it done.”
Slippery Rock had its chances to win the game, as well, but just couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities.
In the first half when the Eagles were struggling against their zone defense, Slippery Rock could only muster 21 points. Then in the third quarter, the Rockets limited Grove City to just two points, but managed just eight points themselves.
But in the end, the fourth quarter proved to be Slippery Rock’s undoing as six turnovers and 2-of-11 shooting derailed any chances of a Rocket victory.
“Down the stretch, we couldn’t find the basket,” Slippery Rock coach Phil Bushre said. “We were inside a couple times. We didn’t make any bunnies. We didn’t take advantage. We got a little complacent down the stretch where we wouldn’t take that lay-up and would kick it out.
“I thought we had a lot of empty possessions. Yeah, we had an opportunity, but we didn’t get something either off a turnover or off a change in possession. I would’ve liked to have pushed it to a 10-point lead instead of a 5-point lead. We had the opportunity, but we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity we had.”
For Slippery Rock, the loss was just another in a long line of frustrating losses to start the year.
“I thought our kids did well,” Bushre said. “I thought this game was a game of highs and lows for both teams. I’m proud of our guys, because they handled some of the lows pretty well, except at the end. Yeah, there were a few mistakes. I thought it was one of our best efforts in the nine games. It was a complete game. I’m hoping this momentum can lead to success in the future.”
With the Rockets still searching for that elusive first victory of the season, Bushre and his assistants are preaching the clean slate mantra to their players.
“We’re only four games into a long region schedule,” Bushre said. “To me, we’re 0-0. Every game is a new game. That’s all we focus on. If they play this hard, I think better things are going to come. I’m a glass half-full kind of guy. There’s always a chance. We have a tough region, but I think we’ve played well all year just not completely. Tonight, we played our most complete game and we still made mistakes. It’s high school basketball.”
Fortunately for Grove City, they finally realized their first Region 5 victory and now in the thick of things for the league’s fourth and final playoff spot in the District 10 playoffs.
Franklin (5-0), Hickory (4-0) and Meadville (4-1) are holding down the region’s top three spots, leaving Sharon (2-2), Farrell (2-3), Oil City (1-3), GJR (1-3) and Grove City to duke it out for the fourth spot.
“It’s getting to the point where everything is a must win,” Fee said. “I told the guys if we can get this turned around (the Eagles may be able to secure the No. 4 seed out of the region and a playoff berth) … it’s that kind of league. We’ve got to string some wins out. We have to win three or four in a row. Anybody can beat anybody in this league for the most part. Anything can happen as we saw last year.”
Grove City was led by Turner’s 14 points, while Reznor (9) and Danny Torok (8) combined for another 17.
“It’s little things that are keeping us from being a much better team,” Fee said. “We’re having trouble grasping things … reversing the ball on offense, not gambling defensively and being patiently defensively. We’re still having problems boxing out. If we don’t turn those things around, the playoffs won’t be something we’ll be talking about. They’re things we’re capable of turning around.”
Slippery Rock offered up a more balanced score sheet with six players posting between 4 and 8 points. Jake Whitmer led the way with 8 points and was followed by Dustin Mellot (7), Bobby Paczkowski (6), Ryan Currie (5), Ryan Northcott (4) and Kyle Bell (4).
NOTES: The win propelled Fee into third place all-time behind Farrell’s Eddie McCluskey and Kennedy’s Joe Votino for career victories in Mercer County history. … Both teams had 16 turnovers. … SR’s biggest lead was at five twice in the third quarter. … The game featured 6 lead changes and 3 ties. … Jared Graham came off the bench to post 6 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. … Reznor pulled down 5 rebounds and Turner had 3 steals. … Grove City outrebounded Slippery Rock 31-24 with Currie and Mellot corralling four apiece.