By Sara welch | correspondent
The infamous rivalry lives on between the Rootstown Rovers and the Waterloo Vikings. The two boys basketball teams, battling to stay out of last place in the PTC County Division, fought until the final seconds of their bout Friday night in Atwater as if the outcome would grant the winner a league championship.
Waterloo managed to edge Rootstown 41-37 and claim a second victory over its nemesis this season.
"Obviously the inexperience of both teams played into what happened tonight," Waterloo head coach Jason Wise said. "I told our guys we set the basketball clock back about 100 years tonight in that game, but both teams played hard. It was a typical Waterloo-Rootstown fight-it-out until the end, but a win is a win. We'll take it."
Waterloo improved to 2-15 overall and 2-9 in the PTC County Division, while Rootstown remains winless on the season at 0-17, 0-11.
Both teams are very young and both teams start a slew of sophomores mixed in with a token senior; however, both teams played as if the success of entire season rested on this matchup.
Waterloo took an early lead of 4-0 in the first quarter. Rootstown wasn't able to send the ball through the basket until Colin England drained a 3-pointer with 3:50 left in the quarter. Less than two minutes later England hit another one, giving the Rovers a 6-4 advantage and enough momentum to put them four points ahead going into the second quarter.
England led the Rovers as their high scorer with 12 points.
Rootstown capitalized on the push England provided and drove its lead to nine points before halftime.
"I was concerned with the way we were playing in the first half. I think we were a little uptight," Wise said. "We jumped on those guys the first time we played them and tonight we didn't get off to a very good start. They're much improved. They're a much better team than they were when we played them a month ago."
It wasn't until the second half that the Vikings showed what they were made of and clawed their way back into the game. Defensively, they were able to hold their opponent to a meager four points, crippling the Rovers and stealing their offensive edge.
"Our kids just decided to stick their nose in there and play a little bit of defense in the second half," Wise said. "We didn't do a very good job of that in the first half. We kind of let people do what they wanted to do and dictate the game. Our kids stuck their nose in the second half and played much better."
Waterloo managed to cut Rootstown's lead to four points before the end of the third quarter. The Vikings' Tyler Kirby hit a 3-pointer from well behind the arc as the buzzer sounded, prompting his teammates on the bench to leap to their feet in triumph. It was clear the Vikings saw that a victory was within their reach and they would fight to claim it.
"We made a couple of shots that got us going," Wise said. "We hit a 3 at the end of the third quarter and I think it jump-started us a little bit. Guys started shooting with a little more confidence. It was a struggle all night offensively."
Waterloo outscored Rootstown 17-9 in the fourth quarter, but once again baskets at critical moments proved to be the difference. Trailing by three points with 1:12 to go, the Vikings' Bob Watson made a 3-pointer and tied the game.
Waterloo's Tom Saviers refused to give the Rovers an opportunity to answer Watson's 3, stealing the ball at halfcourt and finishing with a layup that put the Vikings back in the lead for the first time since the opening quarter.
"Tommy Saviers has been a different kid for the last two weeks," Wise said. "He's really playing well for us. He made plays down the stretch tonight that you hope to see a senior make. He had a big steal and scored the go-ahead basket down the stretch.
"I think all of our kids are improving. I think we're getting better. We're just not very good offensively yet."
Saviers cleared a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Rootstown was only down 39-37 with 44.3 seconds left in the game, and yielding to Waterloo was never an option. The Rovers stretched out the final seconds of the game, fouling and increasing their defensive pressure, but Watson ended any hope the Rovers had by connecting from the charity stripe. Watson made both of his foul shots with 15.1 seconds remaining, putting the Vikings ahead 41-37 and sealing their victory.