By Jim Manion | Correspondent
Nasty weather, heavy winds, and predicted snowfall could not keep two strong student bodies away from Rootstown High School Friday night as the annual Rovers-Vikings battle pitted a pair of winless teams against each other looking for some joy before the Christmas break.
Both student sections dressed in Christmas attire and stood from the opening whistle until the final buzzer for a contest that means much more than just a win. First-year Waterloo coach Jason Wise reminded his team prior to the contest that this game against Rootstown is always important, regardless of records.
When the final buzzer sounded, Waterloo players had presented their coach with his first victory at the helm of his Vikings. Waterloo (1-6, 1-3 PTC County) took control early and, despite a late run by the Rovers, coasted to a 55-38 Portage Trail Conference County Division win.
"I told the kids before the game that it's always important to beat Rootstown," said Wise. "They are our rival and we haven't beaten them in the last two years, so this is a nice win for our team. We have to be more consistent in closing out and winning, and we made some mistakes late, but they got the job done. It feels good to get that first one."
Waterloo jumped out to a 17-point lead to open the game. Andrew Mazur drove to the hoop for a Rootstown basket with over six minutes to play in the first quarter, but that would be the only score for the Rovers as the Vikings went on a 12-0 run and closed out the quarter 19-2.
The Vikings assault was spearheaded by three Tommy Saviers steals at mid-court, and the speedy senior out-raced the Rovers to the basket for three uncontested layups. Dale Miller opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, and would net two more baskets in the first quarter.
"Every game we have gotten off to a slow start, so it was nice to see us clean that situation up tonight," added Wise.
Waterloo maintained the double-digit lead throughout the second quarter, and took a 30-18 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
Colin Michalec led the Vikings scoring parade with 16 points, while Miller tossed in 14 points. Waterloo controlled the boards 31-22, with Michalec and Miller each collecting six rebounds. The Vikings bench support saw Austin Bozak drill a pair of 3s and finish the night with eight points, while Tyler Kirby pulled down four rebounds and scored three points in limited minutes.
Rootstown (0-5, 0-3 PTC County) could not make any gains in the third quarter, as the Vikings pushed the lead with a 13-9 quarter score for a 43-27 advantage entering the final stanza.
Rootstown's Colin England hit a 3 for the Rovers at the four-minute mark of the final quarter, then Evan Ferrell hit a pair of free throws to cut the Vikings lead to only 11 points. However, Waterloo went on a 7-1 run in the final two minutes to close out the win.
Mazur led the Rovers with 13 points, while Conner Formick hit nine points and led the team with eight rebounds.
Congratulations, Coach Wise! Waterloo is blessed to have you at the helm! GO VIKES!