Rockets shake off sluggish opening

By Greg Gulas

sports@vindy.com

EAST PALESTINE

Matt Hvisdak scored all 18 of his points in Tuesday’s second half as the Lowellville High School boys basketball team overcame a sluggish start to defeat East Palestine, 59-52.

It was a game that Hvisdak said had “trap” written all over it.

“It was [their] Senior Night, they’re an athletic team,” Hvisdak said. “In the first half, we struggled to move the ball.”

At halftime, Hvisdak said Coach Matt Olson told them “to work the ball to the middle and get it inside.

“With just 20 points in the first half, we knew that we had better run the offense better in the second half.”

Run the offense better they did as the Rockets (17-3) outscored East Palestine (10-11) by a 39-30 count after the break, turning a 22-20 halftime deficit into a seven-point victory, their 11th in the last 12 outings.

“It’s good to know that even though we didn’t play our very best, we were still able to win,” said Nate Solak, who scored 10 of his 17 points before halftime.

“We were stagnant at the outset offensively and lacked mental focus,” Solak said. “Our defense is fine right now, but we’re going to need to sharpen up our offense.”

The Rockets’ remaining games are against South Range and McDonald.

“It gets tougher, not easier,” Solak said.

Trailing 22-12, six points by the Rockets’ Jake Rotz helped Lowellville close to within 22-20 at the intermission.

As the No.2 seed in the Division IV Struthers district, Olson acknowledges that there’s a bulls-eye on his players’ backs each time they hit the court.

“Teams are playing more zones against us and tonight, East Palestine threw three different zone looks at us over the course of the game,” Olson said. “They tried to stop Matt Hvisdak from penetrating and did a good job of that in the first half.

“In the second half, once he got the ball into the high post, everything opened up.”

Triples by Joe Ballone and Solak helped Lowellville on a 10-4 run to start the second half as they opened a 30-26 margin.

Two buckets by Kemp then helped the Bulldogs on an 8-3 run for a 34-33 lead. But when Hvisdak hit a jumper in the lane at the 3:08 mark, the Rockets regained the lead at 35-34 and did not relinquish it.

Lowellville secured their victory by scoring their last 12 points from the charity stripe, nine of which came from Hvisdak.

Rotz was the other Rockets’ player in double figures with 12 while Branden Kemp and Stephen Darlington finished with 12 points, and Clayton Murray 11 for East Palestine.

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