Together Rovers tame Tigers

By David Carducci Record-Courier staff writer Published:

SALEM _ The box score from Monday night's Division III district semifinal game at Salem High School could give the wrong impression.

Take just a quick glance at the numbers, and the offensive output of Rootstown forwards Nic Frank and Jimmy King will leap off the page.

The two seniors combined for 48 points in the Rovers' 75-58 victory over New Middletown Springfield, helping Rootstown (20-2) win its 17th game in a row and advance to Friday's district final against the winner of tonight's East Palestine/St. Thomas Aquinas contest.

But ask either Frank or King and they will tell you the Rovers' win was anything but a two-player effort.

"Tonight Jimmy and I may have scored a lot of points, but the way everybody on the team played defense made it easy for us," said Frank, who led all scorers with 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting from the field. "The defensive pressure with Jimmy, (Nathan) "Skate" Burrell and Josh Collins up front is what gets our offense going. I had to work for a couple baskets, but on a lot of them, those guys would come up with a steal and get the ball to me for an easy one. And then you've got Rob Hemrick who bangs away inside and gets rebounds, putbacks and draws fouls. Everybody does their part."

Add reserves Matt Allbaugh, Jeremy Rogers and Greg Sever to the mix and the Rovers had five hustling players on the court at all times, pressuring ballhandlers and overplaying the passing lanes to force 13 Springfield turnovers in the first half _ 10 in the second quarter _ and help Rootstown take a commanding 39-20 lead at halftime.

For Rootstown fans, watching the Rovers dominate in the first half is nothing out of the ordinary.

Just three days earlier in the sectional final, Rootstown dominated the first half against Jackson-Milton, at one point leading by 20 points.

But the Rovers stumbled in the second half as the Blue Jays cut the lead to just two points before ultimately falling to the tournament's No. 1 seed, 63-58.

The question in the locker room at halftime: Which team would show up for the second half?

"That's what we talked about," said Rootstown coach Greg Bryte. "I told the guys that we had to keep up the defensive pressure all four quarters, and I think they came out in the second half and did a real nice job of that."

After giving up an offensive rebound and a layup to Springfield guard Nick Prater to open the third quarter, the Rovers mounted an 11-2 run to build their largest lead of the game, 53-26, with 2:50 left in the period.

"We let (Jackson-Milton) right back in the game last Friday night," said Frank. "We all talked about that at halftime and we were not about to let that happen again."

Frank, who finished with 26 points, scored the final eight points of the run, all coming on post moves on the right block.

"Nic has worked hard at becoming a better post player," said Bryte. "Probably for the last three years, he has relied mostly on his jumper, but now he's also very good around the basket. A lot of that has come from this past offseason when he worked at getting a lot stronger. That has paid off."

Following a jump hook by Frank for the final basket of the 11-2 run, Springfield started to make some noise that it might be ready to mount a comeback, regaining some momentum by outscoring Rootstown 9-4 down the stretch of the third quarter.

A defensive stop by the Tigers with 20 seconds left in the third quarter created an opportunity to close with another basket that would carry the new-found momentum into the final eight minutes.

But King turned the tide back in Rootstown's favor, flicking the ball away from Prater and into the waiting hands of Hemrick.

King, who finished the game with 22 points, sprinted down the court to catch a return pass from Hemrick for an uncontested layup that beat the third-quarter buzzer and brought Rootstown's fans to their feet to celebrate a 59-35 lead.

Springfield center Zach Wood scored eight of his team-high 18 points in the fourth quarter to try to keep his team in striking distance, but the best the Tigers could do was trade baskets for most of the period.

Rootstown's lead never dropped below 18 points, and when King again flicked a steal to Hemrick and outran the field for a carbon-copy of his earlier breakaway layup with 2:52 left in the game, the Rovers regained their 20-point lead, 68-48, and all but sealed the Tigers' fate.

Tickets for Friday's district final can be purchased at Rootstown today (9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2:15-7 p.m) or Wednesday (9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2:15-3 p.m.). Tickets are $2 for students and $5 for adults. Reserve seats are also available for $5.50. Game time is 7:30 p.m. at Salem.

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