Clay Cox

Maplewood’s Clay Cox (0) lays the ball up in transition past Rocky Grove’s Gabe Francic (23) in the fourth quarter, Friday.

FRANKLIN — The Maplewood Tigers were unable to slow down the initial senior surge of the Rocky Grove Orioles, who celebrated the final home games of Zac Clayton, Eli Dickson and Gabe Francic. Rocky Grove scored the first seven points of the contest and forced Maplewood to play from behind all evening, as the Tigers fell 61-48, in the non-region contest.

The Tigers (7-14 overall, 4-7 Region 2) were kept off the scoreboard until the 3:14 mark when Jake Brunot made two free throws, after collecting an offensive rebound in the post off his own 3-point shot and being fouled on the put-back attempt.

However, points still remained tough to come by for Maplewood during the remainder of the period, as Rocky Grove (13-8 overall, 7-4 Region 2) pulled ahead 14-4 through the first eight minutes.

Brunot’s first of his four 3-pointers got the Tigers back within single digits, at 16-9, one minute in the second quarter. But, Dickson and Caden Toscano totaled six points apiece in the frame to keep The Grove ahead of the pace of the visitors, as the homestanding Orioles took a 30-18 advantage into the locker room.

At halftime, the Tigers focused on making some adjustments on the offensive end of the floor, looking to open up some better shots from inside and outside the perimeter. Maplewood needed a change of pace after shooting just 4 for 19 from short range and 2 of 7 from beyond the arc, with a handful of chances missed on relative easier chances inside the paint.

“We talked about that at halftime,” Maplewood coach Shawn Rhoades said. “You have to slow down and focus. Those are the easiest chances you’re going to get. Some were contested, but there were a majority that weren’t. The first half, we shot better from (3-point range) than lay-ups. 

“I told them that you have to play through stuff. (The Rocky Grove gym) is small and loud; hostile so-to-speak. We have to not worry about that and let (the home fans) do whatever they’re going to do. We just have to keep playing through that.” 

The change in attack worked for the Tigers to start the second half. Maplewood used a 9-3 run to pull just six points off the lead, at 33-27 with 4:00 left on the third-period clock. Maplewood worked the ball inside to Jonathan Nageotte, who recorded four points, got a transition lay-up from Joel Cox and Brunot connected on another triple. Rocky Grove was forced to call a timeout with the Tigers surging.

“When they brought in their first group, I thought it was a mismatch with Jonathan,” Rhoades said. “We were trying to exploit it inside to open up the perimeter a little bit. We executed for a while, but then we got away from it.”

Unfortunately, the Tigers were unable to sustain that momentum coming out of the timeout. Rocky Grove scored nine unanswered points to close out the quarter, with Francic contributing seven in the frame to help the Orioles take a 42-27 lead into the fourth.

Maplewood got within 13 points a few times during the fourth quarter, but was unable to get any closer the rest of the way.

“We played hard,” Rhoades said. “A call here and there didn’t go our way, but that stuff happens and you have to work through that stuff. Overall, I’m happy with our effort. Everybody that came in played pivotal roles at some points.”

Brunot finished with a team-high 14 points for Maplewood, while Clay Cox and Joel Cox added 11 and 10, respectively. Nageotte chipped in six points and 10 rebounds.

Francic led Rocky Grove and all scorers with 19 points, as Dickson (14) and Toscano (12) added double figures. Clayton contributed four points.

Maplewood will conclude the regular season on Tuesday at Saegertown in a Region 3 contest that had playoff seeding implications.

“It’s huge; one because it’s a rivalry game and two because it has playoff implications,” Rhodaes said. “We’d like to host our first-round playoff game.”

Maplewood is currently in fifth-place in the region with a 4-7 record. The Tigers are one-half game behind Union City (5-7) for fourth place, after the Bears finished their region slate on Friday with a 52-43 loss at Cochranton. A win for Maplewood on Tuesday would give the Tigers an identical 5-7 record with the Bears, and force the seeding to go to the power rankings after the two clubs split their two regular-season contests.

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