In the final 50 seconds of Tuesday’s game against host Bay High School, Rocky River’s Tommy Ruma didn’t lose his focus. The senior traveled with 47.5 seconds left and the Pirates up 50-49. On defense, Ruma grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made both free throws.
The Rockets then missed a 3-pointer on their next possession and Rocky River’s Charlie Hudson made another pair of free throws to seal the Pirates’ 54-49 victory. After being visibly frustrated following the turnover, Ruma, who finished with a game-high 21 points, knew that he had to remain focused.
“I see myself as a leader on the team,” he said. “I had to make sure everyone was in the right place (and) wasn’t going to foul, wasn’t going to make a stupid decision. I just stepped up and hit the two foul shots. We were in the same position last year. It’s nice, it’s very fun.”
For nearly all of the first three quarters, it was unclear if Rocky River (9-7, 7-5 Great Lakes Conference) could do enough to overcome Bay (8-9, 6-7 GLC). After the first half, the Pirates had 13 total turnovers, eight forced by the Rockets, and trailed 27-23. Over halfway through the third, River trailed 33-30 and, though it was within three points, was in desperate need of a spark.
That’s when Ruma stepped in with his first big run of the night.
The sharpshooting guard knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game. Another on the next possession put the Pirates up 36-35 and his third in as many chances put his team up by four points and sent the visiting crowd into a frenzy. His outburst sent Rocky River into the fourth with a 41-35 lead.
“It felt amazing,” Ruma said. “You make one, then you make two and you keep going. You get into it more. Your team’s cheering you on (and) it feels great.”
Behind Ruma in scoring were Tommy Bebie (nine points, four rebounds) and Charlie Hudson (nine points, eight rebounds and two blocks). Coming off a loss to Holy Name on Jan. 28 and losing to the Rockets on Dec. 20 by just two points, Rocky River coach Mike Murray said this was a crucial game to win.
“It’s big and it’s big for our tournament, too,” Murray said. “We’re around the same record, got a bunch of people bunched up there. (Bay) coach (Jared Shetzer) and I were talking before the game about how important that was. Just tons of respect, anytime you can beat their program, you know it’s a good win.”
Shetzer said after the game that he could “care less about” the scoreboard but was pleased with how his team learned and grew against the Pirates. He also praised his team’s toughness on defense and offensive rebounding, pulling down nine second-chance opportunities.
“Hats off to our kids for playing the game as hard as they could,” Shetzer said. “We took steps forward tonight. Congratulations to Rocky River, I honestly mean that. I am just so proud of how hard our kids played.”
The Rockets had to deal with some adversity just before tip off as leading guard Ashton Price, who has been averaging 25 ppg this season, was ruled out with a thumb injury. In his place, sophomore Cooper Mendelow didn’t miss a beat. He scored a team-best 13 points and had three rebounds.
“That was a huge unknown because we didn’t know what to expect,” Shetzer said. “His body language when coach (Scott) Sharp let him know that he was going to start was, ‘I’m gonna ball out.’ And he balled out tonight.”
Other high scorers for Bay were Sam Houk (nine points, five rebounds), Jake Martin (nine points, three rebounds) and Cooper Lyons (nine points, five rebounds).
With just four games left in the regular season for Rocky River, the Pirates host Fairview Park on Friday while Bay, with three games remaining, plays Normandy on the road.
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