By Doug Chapin
Maplewood rallied down the stretch for its sixth win to remain unbeaten.
WARREN — The final score of a basketball game does not always indicate how close the game was throughout. Such was the case Tuesday night at John F. Kennedy High where the Maplewood Rockets stayed unbeaten with a 54-46 triumph over the Eagles.
There were 11 lead changes and eight ties in the game, the last time at 44-44 with 3:48 remaining to play. From that point, the Rockets (6-0) put together a 10-2 run to end the game, including a 4-for-6 performance at the foul line in the final 40 seconds.
“I thought we hit big shots down the stretch,” Maplewood coach Matt Urchek said about his team‘s performance. “We had a couple of big 3s and we made our free throws down the stretch.
“I thought we battled throughout and we held them to six points in the fourth quarter. We always pride ourselves on our defense.”
Kennedy (3-3) indeed struggled in the final quarter and its final field goal of the game came with 7:15 remaining and put the Eagles ahead 42-39. The rest of the way JFK was 0-for-5 from the field.
“We just didn’t execute in the fourth quarter, we only scored six points,” JFK coach Bruce Timko said. “We just have to get better in the fourth quarter. The last two games we haven’t scored in the fourth quarter. We need to get some more guys to step up.”
Maplewood got 3-pointers from Luke Orth with 2:45 left in the game and from Ryan Pease at the 2:09 mark to break the aforementioned 44-44 tie and open what was at the time the largest lead in the game, 50-44.
Pease scored seven of his 10 points in the final quarter and also had five assists. Fellow guard Tom Bottorff contributed seven points and six assists. Orth had 10 points and led the Rockets’ 3-point barrage (8-for-21) with three buckets from behind the arc.
Inside, Sean Zekkour had 11 points and seven rebounds and Alex Doneyko added 11 points and six rebounds.
For Kennedy, senior forward Nick Brown had 17 points, 13 rebounds and three assists. Dontae Stubbs scored nine points off the bench, Boo Timko added seven points and four assists, and Stephen Procopio had six points, six rebounds and four blocked shots.
“When you lose at home it’s hard to say what you did well, I’ll have to look at the film,” Bruce Timko said. “But Deonte Stubbs came in and gave us some good energy and Boo did some good things offensively. We’ve just got to get some more guys to step up around Nick.”
Maplewood’s first five victories this season came against opponents in the nine-school Northeastern Athletic Conference. A 16-game league schedule has the Rockets approaching the start of the season differently.
“Our goal every year is to win our league,” Urchek said. “We looked at it like we don’t get a break. Our first five games were league games including the last two on the road against our rivals Mathews and Pymatuning Valley. Then our first non-conference game is at Kennedy.
“We’ve looked at it like we kind of got a little respect in the league by beating Mathews and PV on the road. We’re hoping this win tonight gets us a little respect outside the league. Kennedy plays a strong schedule and it was nice to get a win against them here.”