ERIE — The defending Region 6 champion Titusville Rockets boys basketball team fell to the Region 7 Cathedral Prep Ramblers in a Saturday afternoon showdown, 67-52, at the Hagerty Events Center.
The Rockets took their first lead in the contest at the 6:18 mark of the first quarter, as Elijah Perez netted two free throws en route to four points on the day. A Guy Anthony block and finish at the other end sparked a 5-2 run and Titusville led 11-6 with 4:21 to play in the first.
This awakened the Ramblers, however, as back-to-back threes by Quentin Santillan and Alfonso Pickens sparked the Prep answer and they led through the first quarter. The lead ballooned to five at the break when a Prep block setup a full-court inbounds play with 4.2 seconds left on the clock. The Ramblers rolled the ball to half-court, preserving the clock, before Pickens found Khalil Horton in the corner who drained the long-ball at the buzzer.
The Rockets utilized a 13-0 run highlighted by three treys to propel into the second quarter. It started with a Perez layup and Rocket steal, which setup Guy Anthony for his first of two field goals from distance on the day. Subsequent threes by Ethan Roberts and Elijah Colon pushed the Titusville lead to 26-19. Defense and active hands by the Rockets forced Ramblers’ head coach Steve Piotrowicz to call a timeout at the 4:32 mark.
“(Active hands) is what we teach the guys and working hard on defense is what allows us to play the game we want to play,” said Rockets’ bench boss Craig Mehlenbacher.
The timeout allowed Mehlenbacher to draw up an inbounds play to exploit the Ramblers pending full-court press. Willie Colon broke toward his basket and won a foot race, catching a perfect three-quarter court pass and converting the layup to give the Rockets a 27-19 lead about midway through the second quarter.
Still, the Ramblers rallied. The 13-0 Titusville run finally came to an end when Anthony fouled Liam Galla on a made bucket and he sank the third possible point. A jump ball that favored Prep and two takeaways led to buckets by Pickens, Michael Lucarotti and Santillan as the Rockets trailed 28-27 at the half. Elijah Colon was the only player in double digits at the midway point with 10 points.
Willie Colon initiated the third with his first connection from beyond the arc, and, again, Titusville went on top. Anthony stymied the Rambler drive with a rejection springing Roberts who was fouled and hit 1-of-2 free throws. The next sequence was back-and-forth. The Colon brothers each answered Prep buckets with two-pointers before Prep’s Santillan hit a 3-pointer to knot the contest at 35-all. Elijah Colon broke the stalemate by answering with a triple to again put the Rockets in front, 38-35.
The Ramblers then went on a 13-3 run in which they again reverted to the full-court press and never surrendered their lead. The Rockets handled the pressure well with 41 seconds left in the third as Anthony stepped into a three from the top of the key. Anthony later forced a steal with five seconds left, but failed to convert the lay-up on the other end. The Rockets trailed 50-42 with a quarter to go.
They’d get back within three in the final frame, but no closer. Roberts answered a Prep and-one with a deep connection, before Anthony swiped away another steal and got it to go smoothly off glass in transition. Elijah Colon had one more 3-pointer in him though, as he hit it with a hand in his face to pull his team within three at the 6:28 mark. Willie made a hustle play shortly thereafter and managed a tough lay-up and it was a two-bucket game with 5:42 in regulation. Anthony registered another block on the following Prep possession, but a Rambler triple put the game out of reach with just over three minutes remaining.
Despite dropping the game with a final of 67-52, Mehlenbacher didn’t stop coaching until time had run out.
“My philosophy and what we preach to the boys is to play hard until the very last whistle and leave it all out there. At the end of the day I’m proud of how they played. We didn’t get a couple (breaks) there at the end, but we were right in it,” he said.
The Rockets fell to 12-4 overall and 5-2 in Region 6. They finished the game with three scorers in double figures. Elijah Colon led the way with 18 points, hitting four from behind the arc. Willie Colon and Anthony each finished with 10 total. Roberts finished with seven, and Charley Evans chipped in three points.
Titusville returns to Region 6 action on Tuesday at General McLane with tip-off set for 7 p.m.