Springfield stays undefeated, tops Lowellville
NEW MIDDLETOWN – When two archrivals play for the top spot in a conference, the play will be fierce. In a tournament-like atmosphere, with a packed house and extremely physical play, the Springfield Tigers pulled away late to capture a 59-48 victory over the Lowellville Rockers to stay on top of the MVAC standings and keep their undefeated season alive.
The win boosted the Tigers to 16-0 overall and 10-0 in the MVAC. The loss drops the Rockets to 11-3 and 6-2 in league play.
The game was reminiscent of the Rockets and Tigers playing on the football field as both teams tried to score in the paint and created a lot of physical play inside. By late in the game, Tigers Alex Rothwell had suffered a contusion to his temple and Beau Brungard had a wad of gauze stuffed up his left nostril.
“It was almost like a football game out there,” Brungard remarked. “It’s part of a rivalry and guys were going at it. The atmosphere was crazy following covid and having all the fans back in. It was just a great feeling having all the community back.”
Those injuries didn’t stop the Tigers as they took a three-point lead late in the third quarter and quickly exploded for a 12-point advantage just a little over a minute into the final period. Leading 40-37, the Rockets incurred a technical foul followed by a basket by Brungard at the close of the quarter to give them a 44-37 lead. They followed that up with a quick basket by Adam Wharry and another bucket by Brungard at the 6:40 mark of the fourth period to propel the Tigers to a 49-37 lead.
“We were fighting to the end,” Rockets coach Matt Olson said. “It was physical both ways. Both teams have a lot of size. We have four big guys, and they have some big guys inside, strong guys, so we knew it was going to be a battle. But they made more shots than we did at the end.”
Following a basket by Wharry at the 3:06 mark of the fourth quarter, the Tigers had gone on a 13-2 run. The Tigers would convert 8-of-10 free throws in the fourth period to prevent the Rockets from ever making a serious run in the final quarter
The Rockets were successful in feeding the ball inside to Anthony Lucente in the first half as the Rockets held a 16-14 lead at the close of the first quarter. Lucente would score 12 of his 18 game points in that first half.
“That was one of our main things in this game to at least equal them on the rebounds and then get it inside to the post,” Olson said. “We feel Lucente has an advantage every time he is in there. But it got away from us in the end.”
Springfield coach Jeff Brink said he would have done the same thing with a player like Lucente.
“That would be my game plan if I was him as well,” Brink remarked. “Lucente has been dominant in our league and is a great player. They kept pounding us inside and we just kept stressing in the second half that we had to get off and work on our trap rotation out of the post, and we did a much better job of that late in the third quarter and the fourth.”
After trailing at the close of the first period, the Tigers would grab the lead back just 21-seconds into the second quarter when Wharry sank the first of his two threes on the night to make it 17-16 in favor of the Tigers. The Tigers would eventually carry a 5-point, 32-27 led into the locker rooms at intermission.
The Tigers would continue to hold the lead throughout the third quarter, but the Rockets would close the deficit down to just a point at 36-35 with just under five minutes left in the frame when Lucente converted two free throws.
That was the last time the Rockets would get that close as the Tigers pulled away at the end of the quarter.
“This was tremendous for the community to see these kids play,” Brink said. “To have a crowd here was something special. This was tournament basketball. This is the kind of game you have to play. But we have more to do.”
The Tiger will look to stay on top of the MVAC in their next contest Monday night when they travel to Western Reserve. The Rockets will try to bounce back in their next game when they host McDonald Saturday night.