Elijah Colon

ROCKY GROVE — The defending Region 6 champions got off to a quick start to begin the 2019-20 campaign as the Titusville Rockets boys basketball team routed the Cranberry Berries, 96-52, in the opening game of the Rocky Grove Tip-Off Tournament. 

Friday was a coming out party for many of the Rockets who either served as role players off the bench last season, or didn’t get much time on the floor, while the returning players kept on producing. Elijah Colon (27), Elijah Perez (21) and Guy Anthony (20) combined for more than two-thirds of the team’s offense.

It was Titusville’s largest margin of victory since beating Maplewood at The Woodshed 69-25 on Dec. 12, 2015. The Rockets also picked up a pair of 40-plus point victories last year in the same season-opening tournament over Venango Catholic and Rocky Grove.

Cranberry was paced by Matt McQuaide’s 21 points and JT Stahlman’s 16 points as the remaining Berries players finished with five points or less apiece.

Titusville was able to impose its fast-paced style of play throughout the night on its opponent, as the Rockets forced more than 30 turnovers en route to creating many easy transition buckets.

“That’s our strength,” Titusville coach Craig Mehlenbacher said of the high-tempo attack. “We knew it was coming in. It’s just whether or not we can get the stops defensively, and get out on the floor and go. We were able to do that a little bit tonight. Some of our guys were shooting really well.”

On the attack, Titusville was able to score in seemingly every situation. Cranberry tried to contain the post early with a 2-3 zone, but the Rockets made them pay from long range as the Brown and Gold converted a total of nine 3-point chances during the contest. Colon, who Mehlenbacher called his “most pure shooter,” accounted for five of them in his first varsity start to easily surpass his previous career high of nine points.

“It felt good,” Colon said of his performance. “My teammates were looking out for me and getting me open. Coach (Mehlenbacher) gave me confidence before the game.”

The success from long range opened the post for Anthony, who finished with another double-double. The senior forward who was second on the team in scoring last season collected 10 rebounds and made a couple of put-back chances underneath the basket in his 10-point first quarter.

It didn’t appear that the Rockets would have as dominant of a night early on. Cranberry made two of the first three buckets of the contest and built a 7-4 lead through the first 2 1/2 minutes. From there on, Titusville went on a 13-0 run from the aid of five turnovers and five additional stops on the defensive end of the floor.

“They made some tough shots in the beginning,” Mehlenbacher said. “That kind of stuff happens but you have to maintain focus and get it done on the defensive end. That’s exactly what happened. We got a couple steals and put up 10 points really fast.”

Perez was at the forefront of the Rocket defense, and was able to pick-pocket the guards of the Berries on multiple occasions.

“We were trying to contain the ball and not let them get any easy shots,” Perez said. “We just stayed focus and pressured the ball. We made them force some bad passes and go on the run.”

Fellow starters Ethan Roberts and Willie Colon finished with seven points apiece, while Laird Stover, Derek Beach and Garrett Knapp contributed some key minutes off of the bench. Manny Perez scored his first varsity bucket in the fourth quarter and totaled six points.

Titusville was put somewhat in a pickle when its sixth man, Charlie Evans, was injured prior to the start of the game, but the aforementioned trio of Stover, Beach and Knapp helped the Rockets weather the storm.

“We lost our sixth man right before the game because he turned his ankle in warmups,” Mehlenbacher said. “Laird Stover and Derek Beach, (who were) the first two primary kids that came in, did a great job. We didn’t really miss anything there, and Garrett Knapp came in and gave us some minutes. They did well and were a little bit hyped because of how well we were playing, and they fed on it.”

Titusville (1-0) will face Rocky Grove today in the tournament championship game at 5 p.m. The Orioles defeated Venango Catholic, 77-25, in the nightcap of Friday’s doubleheader.

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