By ERIC FORTUNE
Back in December, the Struthers Wildcats scored just 20 points through three quarters and, despite a furious rally in the final quarter, fell to the Hubbard Eagles.
Two months later, any semblance of what took place that night was forgotten on a Saturday afternoon at the Struthers Fieldhouse as the Wildcats rolled 58-42 in an All-American Conference game.
“We told them if we come out and play lethargic [and] lazy, they’ll do the same thing to us,” Struthers coach Joe Savko said. “They put it on us the first time we played them. We got it in our minds that we had to play hard for four quarters and I think that was the difference.”
This time around, the Wildcats (7-13) dropped some big 3-pointers early on from Dalton Moore and Austin Yemma to quickly erase an early 2-0 advantage from the Eagles (5-14).
Up 9-2 at the 5:01 mark, a timeout by the Eagles didn’t stop the bleeding as Struthers continued to pile it on in the opening frame building out an 18-4 advantage after another 3 from Moore.
“We just didn’t come ready to play,” Hubbard coach Rick Fox said. “They took it to us. We held them to 20 points for three quarters at our place earlier this season. We gave up 18 in one quarter today. Credit Savko, he had them ready to play today.”
After three straight buckets from the Eagles got it back within single digits in the early stages of the second quarter, the Wildcats continued to make timely shots with two more 3s to make it 30-19 at the half.
It was a struggle for the Eagles on defense trying to get back in transition and when it came to challenging shots.
“We missed some shots,” Fox said. “We didn’t realize where their shooters were and they got open shots. You give a shooter an open shot, they’re going to knock them down. They had a nice first half.”
The Wildcats built out their advantage as much as 14 at one point before the Eagles started to find some success on the offensive end to once again get it within single digits at nine. Though each time they got back into the game, the Wildcats would halt the momentum and make timely shots.
“That’s the thing,” Fox said. “All year, we’ve dug ourself a hole and we fight back, but then we tire out. We put all that effort into coming back and then we lose our legs and miss some shots. Then they make some shots and it goes from nine back up to 14.”
Despite shooting 5-of-11 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were effective from the field (6-of-14) just as they were in the opening quarter (7-of-14) to really dictate the flow of the game.
“I would say overall, this was our first complete game on the season, Savko said. “We’ve been harping [that] we need to play for 32 minutes — four quarters. We were playing three quarters hard, playing three-and-half quarters hard, but we would not put four quarters together. We were in a lot of games, [but] just couldn’t pull any of them out. Today was our best effort.”