WATERFORD — Momentum is king when heading into any postseason tournament, and that’s especially true for this season’s Titusville Rockets boys basketball team, who needed a win to break-up a logjam in the Region 6 standings Tuesday night visiting the Ft. LeBoeuf Bison.
Titusville got the 69-51 win, snapping a three-game losing skid, setting up for a regular-season finale Wednesday night at The Launch Pad.
As the game got underway, the Bison heated up with a torrid pace as Nick Dooley and Brandon Drayer each hit from distance to give Ft. LeBoeuf the 6-0 lead. Elijah Perez cooled them down momentarily with a baseline reverse lay-up, but then Drayer and Dooley traded two more from deep around a Willie Colon triple, and the Bison assumed a 13-8 advantage. Colon got on the board again with a finger roll and hit a free throw for good measure as he was fouled in the process. Drayer hit the final Ft. LeBoeuf field goal of the quarter with 3:30 left, again from long distance, making for a seven-point lead. Then, Titusville took control.
Rockets Head Coach Craig Mehlenbacher said they wanted to give a different look with a zone defense to start the game, but Ft. LeBoeuf combatted it well by connecting on their shots from deep.
“The 3-2, I thought, would help limit Joe Riley a little bit with his penetration with some extra bodies in there,” said Mehlenbacher. “We wanted to see if those other guys would start making some shots and they did, so we got out of it fast.”
Laird Stover checked in to hit a three, followed by an Ethan Roberts lay-up to cut the Rockets’ deficit to just two points. If not for two Riley free throws with just over a minute to play in the first, Titusville would have led after one. Instead, Colon netted a 2-pointer with a foot on the 3-point arc and they trailed, 17-15.
The Rockets found their groove as they got to their game toward the end of quarter one as they began to dictate the tempo.
“We shot better once we started pushing the ball up the floor,” continued Titusville’s bench boss. “We started to get some better looks and I thought that was key here tonight, at least as far as our shooting was concerned.”
The Rockets took their first lead of the contest with 7:03 to go in the second, and thus began a tug of war. Perez made an emphatic swat on a Max Endres attempt on Titusville’s defensive end, but the Bison wrestled back the lead with Derek Black’s first bucket of the game. Colon was fouled and hit two free throws, then Marquis Richmond connected on a quick answer and again Titusville found themselves down a point. A technical foul on Drayer sent Colon back to the stripe where he remained perfect on the night, giving Titusville a lead they wouldn’t surrender for the remainder of the half.
Colon hit a corner three with just under two to play in the half, and Stover contributed a block of his own then reached in and tied up the ball-handler, but Ft. LeBoeuf retained possession. The effort wasn’t for not, however, as after a Bison two by Riley, Charley Evans forced another jump ball and Titusville took possession with 14 seconds left in the first half. Perez used the extra pass to find Evans and as the Ft. LeBoeuf defense cleared out, Evans laid it in and Titusville led at half, 30-25.
Mehlenbacher thought his team gained the traction they needed as those shots started to fall.
“We started out slow, but Willie hit some big shots and Charley gave us a big start off the bench,” he said. “We knew the first couple minutes (of the third) was going to be big so I said, ‘look guys, they’re either gonna comeback and tie it or we’re going up by 10.”
The third quarter began with the Rockets going back to their leading scorer, Anthony, who hit an NBA-range three. Perez then perfectly anticipated a pass to Riley, storming the other direction where he was fouled and hit one free throw. The Bison got back-to-back field goals from Black, before Colon again hit from 3-point range.
Perez found Anthony on the low block with 2:28 remaining in the third, but Drayer continued the three parade with two more. A Roberts two and Colon three-point play after driving coast-to-coast put the Rockets up with a quarter to play, 43-35.
The Rockets all but broke the will of their opposition as the fourth quarter commenced with Perez opening the scoring. Black and Anthony began to trade points and Black answered a 1-for-2 free throw trip with a 2-pointer, before Anthony hit a layup to spark another run by Titusville.
Two finger-roll lay-ups by Perez then Colon, followed by an Anthony deuce put the Bison in perilous straits as they trailed 54-39 with 3:30 to go.
Drayer would heat back up for the home team, netting a bucket then a put-back, and that’s when Anthony was fouled and made the most of his one-and-one opportunity. Roberts followed with a perfect trip, himself, and the game was effectively over. Colon hit one more before Laird Stover was fouled intentionally, giving Mehlenbacher the chance to put Garrett Knapp and Manny Perez in the game to finish out regulation, and afford a curtain call for Anthony, Perez and Colon. Stover hit a free throw, Evans hit one, and Roberts hit two more to give Titusville the road victory, 69-51.
Colon paced the Rockets with 25 total points and six rebounds. Anthony finished with a double-double with 16 points and rebounds. Elijah Perez had nine, Roberts added eight and rounding out the scorers for Titusville was Evans with six and Stover with five.
Titusville finishes the regular season Wednesday night and will enter with a 14-7 overall record and 7-5 in Region 6 play.
The Rockets will play an opponent that is yet to be determined in the first round of the District 10 playoff tournament, set to tip-off Friday night, as there is a three-way tie between Titusville, Corry and Warren, with identical 7-5 records, behind Region 6 champ Harbor Creek.