By Corey J. Corbin
Allied News Sports Correspondent
MERCER COUNTY AREA —
SLIPPERY ROCK -- It doesn’t matter if they’re battling for playoff positioning or if the two teams have combined for 7-29 records.
Grove City and Slippery Rock will put on a good show on the basketball court.
With both teams long since eliminated from postseason contention, the Eagles (2-11, 4-14) and victorious Rockets (2-10, 3-15) staged a pretty entertaining 54-52 Region 5-AAA contest Tuesday evening at Slippery Rock High School.
“This is a big rivalry,” Slippery Rock coach Phil Bushre said. “Ohio State-Michigan tonight and Grove City-Slippery Rock earlier. This is a big deal in this 12-mile area. This is something that they’ll remember for a lot longer than if we were 2-20. This continues a tradition for us. We’ve played pretty well against Grove City over the years. It’s good for the kids and the community.”
The Rockets had to sweat out the victory despite leading by 6 midway through the fourth quarter as the Eagles made one final charge to knot the score at 52 on Derek Turner’s lay-up with 33.1 seconds left.
But, Ryan Currie -- the quarterback for the football team -- got to play hero one final time, by scoring with just 15.1 seconds left to lift the Rockets.
“That was a great moment to watch,” Bushre said. “It was nice to see your team go through adversity and see no panic. They came down cool, calm and collected and did what they had been doing the whole game. That’s breaking them down and getting easy shots. No one panicked. As a coach going through this season with some tough losses, they played to win and finished the game.”
The win was a long time coming for the Rockets, who have 5 losses by 10 points or less.
“We’ve been close,” Bushre said. “We’ve had a lot of adversity this year in some close games. Hickory’s no slouch and we had them there at the end and lost it there at the end. I’ll remember this win for this team. You always have a signature win with a group and this is that game for this group. They have to move on and I have to stay here.”
The game couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for Slippery Rock, who committed 7 turnovers and made just 2-of-5 shots from the field in the first quarter, and found themselves in a 17-8 hole midway through the second quarter.
“I don’t know if that was nerves,” Bushre said. “The juices were flowing. That’s what I chalked it up to. I thought we rebounded well from that in the second quarter and carried it into the third quarter. That’s high school basketball.”
From there, it was a mixture of Bobby Paczkowski, Shane Karl and Jake Whitmer for the Rockets. Karl led SR with 14 points, while Paczkowski (13) and Whitmer (10) also reached double figures.
“We’ve had a lot of guys step up at different times,” Bushre said. “It was nice to see Bobby, Ryan (Currie), Shane and Jake (play well). I thought it was a complete team effort both offensively and defensively. I couldn’t be prouder of the guys.
“I’d say the second half of the season Shane’s been doing what he did tonight. He finished, getting to all the loose balls. Those are things you hope someone does. The guys did a good job of finding him. Bobby really didn’t play much early on. This was a great game for Bob. He can score from the three, but he was taking it to the hole. He was getting rebounds.
“Jake started playing like he will hopefully will in the future. I don’t know if he scored, but Dustin. He had nine rebounds. There’s a reason why he’s our captain. He doesn’t have to score and he’ll still play the same way. I was real proud of him.”
For Grove City, the loss was just another in a string of frustrating losses.
Grove City -- who made as many three-pointers (9) as they did two-point shots -- found themselves out of position on both ends of the floor.
“It’s been that way all year long,” Grove City coach Don Fee said. “We lose our minds. We don’t execute. We come out of a time out and are supposed to be in a press. Four guys are in it and one guy isn’t. This is stuff you can’t overcome.
“We threw the ball around. We were just so disorganized. It’s just so frustrating. They just don’t keep their heads out there. Maybe, I’ve done a lousy job as well.”
Grove City got an exceptional game from Derek Turner, who scored a game-high 18 in his return from a one-game hiatus due to bruised ribs, while Matt Thrasher (13) and Danny Torok (10) also reached double figures.
“We can’t win games when we don’t execute when the game’s on the line,” Fee said. “Yeah, we have some young guys, but we’ve got almost a full season in now. We have to start making plays if we’re going to be the team we want to be. It goes into next year as well.”
Notes: The game featured 8 ties and 14 lead changes. … Grove City had 14 turnovers to Slippery Rock’s 13. … Slippery Rock held a slight 28-24 edge on the boards with Dustin Mellot pulling down 9. … Slippery Rock made 19-of-49 field goals, while Grove City was 18-of-43. … Foster Reznor had 7 points, 4 steals, 3 assists and 3 rebounds, while Torok (5) and Thrasher (4) had solid contributions on the glass. … Whitmer had 5 rebounds and 4 assists.