By JOE CATULLO
Dribbling with less than 30 seconds remaining, Mineral Ridge point guard Steven Phillips was having a career night, leading his team with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
But then the ball trickled out of his left hand. Maplewood’s Luke Urchek and Phillips ran toward out of bounds, both lunged and each had a hand on the ball. Urchek’s right hand landed out of bounds while the left touched the basketball. Then one referee called a turnover.
“It was a little debatable,” said Rams coach Chris Kohl. “The ball never went out of bounds. I mean it was right there, but that’s his call. That was a tough one that went against us.”
Maplewood, however, did not make a free throw. But Mineral Ridge committed another turnver and Maplewood’s Kevin Jones hit two free throws with 3.7 seconds remaining.
The Rams were out of timeouts, and the Rockets won, 52-48.
Jones finished with a team-high 15 points.
“Kevin’s a very good free throw shooter, so I was confident that he was going to make at least one of them,” Rockets coach Nathan Kish said. “He did a great job in the play to get fouled. It calmed my nerves a little bit to see him hit the first one.”
The Rams (15-9) held a five-point lead at halftime until the Rockets (17-6) began the third quarter on an 11-0 scoring run. Kohl said his team lost its composure.
“It was just basically who was going to be man enough to rebound the basketball [and] who was going to get by their man and score in the paint,” Kish said. “The one thing we’ve lacked this year is the ability for our guys to go in the paint and score, but when we do it good things happen.”
Though the Rams ended their season, Kohl was still a happy and confident guy, stating the Rams are back and have something to look forward to next season.
“I think everybody got their money’s worth tonight to say the least,” he said.
The Rockets advance to the next round of the Division IV tournament against Windham.
The Bombers struggled offensively in the first half against Mathews before a 37-point second half lifted them to a 57-43 victory.
The Mustangs (9-15) committed 20 turnovers on 28 possessions in the first half, which is 71.4 percent of their possessions but only trailed, 20-9, at halftime.
“If we would have shot the ball well, [we] could’ve ended the game by halftime,” said Windham coach Marty Hill. “We haven’t played since last Friday. We were out of sync and missed some easy shots we usually make.”
What set the mood for the Bombers (21-2) was Stephen Kacenski’s fourth-quarter dunk. He lifted over the Mustangs with ease as his neck evened with the rim. The crowd went into a frenzy and cheered for the next three minutes even when Kacenski picked up a technical foul for hanging on the rim too long.
“I guess it was worth it to him,” Hill said.
Mathews, which attempted nine shots in the first half, committed just eight turnovers in the second half but could not overcome the deficit.
“I felt that even if we had a great first half, you have to play an entire game against a team like that,” said Mathews coach Jason Lee. “They came out in the third quarter and just put it to us, and I think that snapped the neck a little bit. It sent us down the hill, and we couldn’t come back.”