Much has changed about the Bay boys basketball team since last season. But, luckily for the Rockets, much has stayed the same.
The Rockets have still played their brand of basketball under seventh-year coach Jared Shetzer, using speed and heads-up decision making on offense and a full-court, pressuring defense to keep opponents on their toes. Their high-effort style led them to a 79-65 victory over visiting Buckeye Friday in Great Lakes Conference play.
But the overall look of the roster is completely different. The Rockets graduated a prolific senior class that included all five of last season’s starters. Of the players who saw court time in the team’s final game a year ago — a Division II District final loss to Cleveland Central Catholic — only three remain.
“The nice thing is, these kids we have right now have come up in the program,” Shetzer said. “They’ve played seventh and eighth grade, freshmen ball, they played together way back in travel ball, and our varsity practices with the JV every day. So we know who these kids are coming up and we know what their skill set is. We keep issuing challenges to them and they keep accepting them and taking steps forward.”
Like teams of the past, the Rockets (2-3, 1-2 GLC) found a familiar offensive groove against the Bucks (1-2, 0-2 GLC), shooting 51% from the floor and dishing out 18 assists. Junior point guard Ashton Price, one of last season’s returners, led all scorers with 24 points while notching team-highs in assists (five) and steals (three). Sixteen of his points came in the second half.
Despite going into halftime leading 35-22,a determined Bucks lineup pushed back against the Rockets in the third quarter. Buckeye made six of their nine total 3-pointers in the third and outscored the Rockets 25-17 at one point, pulling to within 52-47. But Price scored three baskets late to spark an 8-0 run that put Bay back up 60-50 heading into the fourth.
With the help of junior forward Cullen Gergye (20 points, 10 rebounds) and a deep six-man bench that combined for 26 points, Bay pulled back ahead by as many as 16 points before the final buzzer.
“We had people coming off the bench really step up and bring energy,” Price said. “Everybody was ready to play and we took advantage of it … I’m trying to lead the team as best as I can every night, whether that’s creating for my teammates or getting stops on defense, whatever it takes to win.”
Price also played a role in a 14-0 Bay run that helped close the first quarter with a 21-7 lead. It was the latest eye-opening performance for a player who was challenged by the coaching staff to develop over the last off-season.
“I was trying to put on some weight, really work on explosiveness and, of course, a consistent jump shot,” Price said of his summer workload.
In addition to a strong scoring night, the Rockets helped themselves by using their pressure defense to force 18 Bucks turnovers, including 12 steals. Though the start of the season has been a little rocky — the Rockets had lost three straight before beating Buckeye — Shetzer thought Friday’s showing was a step closer to the desired level of play.
“It felt like, offensively, we solved a few things tonight, which was great,” Shetzer said. “We kind of challenged the kids to take better care of the ball and get higher quality shots, and they were able to do that.”
The Bucks, a newcomer to the GLC this year after the dissolution of the Patriot Athletic Conference, have struggled out of the gate due to being in a similar situation as the Rockets. Graduation decimated their varsity ranks, taking with it last season’s entire starting lineup that helped win 20 games and advance to a sectional final.
Sophomore guard Danny Flood scored 23 points to go with four rebounds and four assists, and sophomore Nick Miller added 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench, but the inexperienced Bucks could not overcome the defensive lapses that led to Bay’s big lead.
“We made a few shots in the third quarter, but we also got a few stops (during our comeback),” Bucks coach Tom Harrington said. “We’ve got to be able to compete on the defensive end. We need guys to step up and compete a little harder.”
Next up for the Rockets is a showdown at Rocky River at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
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