By ERIC FORTUNE
Cornerstone Christian won its first three tournament games by an average of 50 points, so it looked like Maplewood could be in for a long night in Friday’s Division IV district boys basketball final.
Still, despite falling behind by 19 points at one point, the Rockets never buckled and made Cornerstone Christian work for everything before falling 62-53 at Grand Valley High School.
“It just shows that they don’t give up,” Maplewood coach Nathan Kish said. “They fought through a little adversity and that is why we’ve been successful. That is how they respond when things get tough.”
The Rockets (20-5) fell behind 9-3 after a bucket by Julian Gee at the 4:34 mark.
The Rockets went to a triangle-and-two defense which seemed to catch the Patriots (20-4) off guard as they continuously missed buckets in the paint and were out-rebounded 13-6 in the opening quarter.
“We knew Daniel Bennet and RJ Spaller were great shooters,” Kish said. I thought we did a very good job on them defensively. They didn’t respond.”
After back-to-back buckets from Ethan Obradovich gave Maplewood a 14-9 lead at the 1:04 mark, things began to unravel when Bryan Gee started to find his footing.
“I don’t know if they weren’t quite ready for it, but when they got the lead, we had to come out of that,” Kish said. “That was when Gee kind of took over. He did pretty much whatever he wanted.”
His 3 to start the second quarter reclaimed the lead for the Patriots, 15-14, and continued what would be a 17-4 run before a bucket from Obradovich stopped the bleeding.
Despite scoring only six points in the second quarter, the Rockets were seemingly still in striking distance down 28-20.
But the Patriots then used a 13-2 run to build a 19-point lead.
“Our biggest goal was to exert our type of defense in a half court,” Patriots coach Dan Selle said. “I thought we did a better job of that in the second half. I’ll say this: the thing I was most impressed with Maplewood is that we had them on the ropes a couple of times and we couldn’t knock them out.
“That was one of our focal points at halftime — limiting them to one shot. Their second-chance opportunities kept them in it in the first half.”
After three quarters, the Rockets faced a 46-29 deficit and looked to have no answers for Gee, who scored 10 of his game-high 24 points in this frame.
“Bryan Gee is the best point guard in Ohio,” Selle said. “We had him in ‘Dunk 4 Diabetes’ [tournament in January] and I saw all the teams play. He’s the starting point guard for eight of those teams. He’s fantastic on the defensive end, on the offensive, rebounding — he’s does it all for us. He’s out motor.”
The Rockets made matters interesting as shots started falling again in the final quarter. They shot 10 of 15 from the floor and limited the Patriots to just three field goals.
The Rockets got as close as six, 59-53, with 30 seconds to play, but the Patriots would close the game out from the line.
“They were very quick,” Kish said. “They played great defense. It’s a step quicker than what we’re used to and that hurt us. Once we caught on, we scored. It was those first three quarters where we just never responded to their speed.
“We didn’t knock down shots. We missed a lot of layups and open shots, but I can’t be upset with my team when they give me everything they have.”