The Hornets will be in a three-team playoff for a District 10 berth.
By BILL ALBRIGHT
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -- The scenario facing the Hickory boys basketball team was simple: Win and more than likely stay alive for a playoff spot, or lose and pack the gear away for the season.
The Hornets took care of business with a physical 71-63 win over Slippery Rock, while just up the road Sharon finished Mercer County play at 6-0 with a 64-44 win over Grove City.
With the Hickory win and the losses by Grove City and Slippery Rock, all three teams finish league play at 2-4, necessitating a three-team playoff for the final spot in the upcoming District 10-AAA playoffs.
"We took control of the game even though we were facing some adverse circumstances," said Hickory coach Tony Mastrian. "Nick [Mastrian] stepped it up and Dante' [Marshall] took over for us, so the seniors came through when they had to."
Holding onto a 52-51 lead one minute into the final period, the Hornets missed five consecutive free throws. But as it turned out, it was the free throw shooting of Mastrian and Jimmy O'Rourke that led to the Hickory win.
Leading the way
Mastrian led all scorers with 21 points, O'Rourke adding another 18, while Brett Codispot paced the Rockets with 20 points.
"Nick made some big free throws and Jimmy started knocking some down so overall, it was just a great, great effort by those guys," said Mastrian. "There was a lot of lack of composure out there, but the kids handled themselves very well. I told them in the huddles what we had to do, they listened and as a result, we were able to come away with the win."
Slippery Rock coach Chris Burtch also felt Mastrian was the difference in the game.
"Mastrian has really turned himself into a terrific player," praised Burtch. "He penetrated on us and got to the rim on us all night long. He played a heckuva ball game and he was definitely the difference."
After losing their first four league games, the Hornets rebounded to win the final two to stay alive for a possible berth in the district tournament.
Take care of opportunities
"We talked about opportunities all year," said Mastrian. "We had some opportunities that came to us. We played Grove City last week and took care of that one and tonight was our final opportunity and we took care of this one. We focus on opportunities as a means of taking care of business."
"You can't say enough about the Hickory kids," said Burtch. "They were 0-and-4 and looked ready for someone to put a fork in them. But they won these last two ball games, both on the road, and now they have a chance to go to the district playoffs. That is just incredible."
While the Hornets made the most of their opportunities, Burtch felt that it was the lack of his team to turn the "moments" into points and a win.
"All season, we had those moments where we were able to turn the tide on people," said Burtch. "When we had those moments and a chance to make big plays, we weren't able to get it done tonight. Those moments were there, but unfortunately when we had them, we didn't make the play."