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Rockets eliminated at Bristol

Staff photo / Joe Simon Lowellville’s Johnny Michaels (15) dribbles while being guarded by Jeremy Miller (4) of Bristol on Tuesday at Bristol High School.

BRISTOLVILLE — Lowellville’s Anthony Lucente pounded his chest and let out a roar as the Rockets came back up court after forcing a Bristol turnover in a Division IV District semifinal.

In a game of runs, Lowellville was enjoying its biggest of the game, cutting what was a 13-point lead down to three early in the second half. The Rockets had all the momentum.

Bristol didn’t let them keep it.

The Panthers answered all of Lowellville’s runs and outlasted the bigger, stronger Rockets in a 59-44 battle at Bristol High School.

“We would have a couple runs here and there, and then they would surge right back and get a couple runs,” said interim Lowellville coach Nick Ballone, who filled in for a suspended Matt Olson. “It was just a game of runs. That’s how basketball is. We just fell short today.”

Each team did its best to enact a specific gameplan.

The Rockets (11-10) wanted a slow-paced game where they could run a half-court set and throw the ball into Lucente (6-foot-3) and Cole Bunofsky (6-3) to use an obvious size advantage. Bristol (12-3) countered with a fast-paced, full-court press style of play in which the Panthers tried to wreak havoc for Lowellville.

Both styles had their moments. Bristol’s just lasted longer.

“Our main goal tonight was to speed them up,” Panthers coach Craig Giesy said. “They’re a bigger team. They can play bully-ball at times. So we wanted to make sure that we had them playing as fast as we could get them to play. To their credit, they made some shots early third quarter to come back. They made their shots. We told our kids before the game, ‘This is a district semi. Lowellville is a very good team. They’re going to make runs. Settle in, and make one back at ’em.’ We did do that. We did a good job settling in and not getting caught up in the emotion of the game.”

Staff photo / Joe Simon
Lowellville’s Vinny Ballone, right, makes a pass as Bristol’s Logan Zirzow (2) defends during their matchup Tuesday in Bristolville.

The Panthers looked like they might pull away in the first half.

Bristol went on a big run that stretched from the first quarter into the second, and it had all the momentum — and an 11-point lead — at the break, but Lowellville wasn’t fazed. The Rockets’ Johnny Michaels sparked a 12-4 run to start the third quarter when he hit a couple of big shots. Those came after Lowellville’s defense got a quick stop and then forced a turnover. That’s when Lucente, who scored a team-high 13 points, and the rest of the Rockets could sense the momentum shifting.

The Panthers noticed the change, too, and they put a stop to it. Freshman Michael Burbach pieced together a huge second half, scoring 19 of his game-high 21 points in the final two quarters. He also was the recipient of several nice interior passes by a Bristol team that consistently made the extra pass to find the best possible shot.

“We played hard,” Ballone said. “There’s nothing to hang our heads about. We played hard, we just ended up falling short. This team is pretty good. They play smart. They play as a team, and they hustle.

“We were just a couple shots away from making a run.”

The Rockets did make one last push.

Bristol had stretched the lead back out to double digits midway through the fourth quarter when Michaels hit two 3-pointers to close the gap to eight. The Rockets had the ball and a chance to cut the lead to six when a charge was called on Lowellville with 2:15 left in the game. It was the final momentum change for Bristol, which found Burbach on a couple of late breakaway layups to close the game out.

“They played hard, they got a good lead on us early, and we just couldn’t claw back from there,” Ballone said. “They’re a solid team, and I think they’re going to end up winning this whole bracket. We just fell short today.”

Michaels scored all 11 of his points in the second half. Vinny Ballone scored 10 points for the Rockets.

Jeremy Miller added 13 for Bristol, which now plays Mathews at home in the district final on Friday.

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