Boys Basketball Report: On second thought, these Rockets could have say in Metro title

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It is the consensus with Portage Trail Conference Metro Division coaches that the Norton Panthers are the best team in the league.

Streetsboro head coach Nick Marcini is a coach who shares in that belief.

"They came into the year with the experience; they didn't lose much from last year's championship team and they have the talent to make them the team to beat," said Marcini.

I have been saying in this column that Norton has the talent to separate themselves from the rest of the division as the remainder of the teams battle for second place and beat up on each other.

Tuesday night, however, Marcini's Rockets pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season when they beat the Panthers 51-49 in a thriller on the Streetsboro hardwood.

The Streetsboro win and surprising Spartans of Springfield have tightened up the Metro's title race. Springfield has won six games in a row and is currently tied with the Rockets with 4-2 division records -- both only one game back of Norton.

ROCKETS UPGRADE SCHEDULE

A deeper look into that upset proves that records can be very deceiving.

Streetsboro has continued to upgrade its schedule every year. Unlike some Metro teams that play many County Division teams during the season, the Rockets do not have a single County Division team on their schedule.

The Rockets lost five games in a row to close out 2012 and six of the last seven games before Tuesday night. I am sure that some of the Norton players looked at the Rockets' 4-6 record entering Tuesday's action and maybe had a tendency to relax just a little.

Two of the Rockets' losses, though, came at the buzzer against tough teams like Aurora and Kenston. Five of the six losses were against Division I schools and last Saturday the Rockets took once-beaten Youngstown East to the buzzer before losing 68-65.

Marcini is a coach that believes tougher competition helps build your program.

"To me, there is no doubt about it. Our non-league is preparation for the tournament, and we try to get every type of team on the schedule as possible," said Marcini. "We go against some of the Youngstown quickness, a tough program like Poland and Hudson is one of the toughest teams in this area.

"I think our loss to Youngstown East Saturday gave us a lot of confidence for Tuesday's game. We took them to the wire, and they are a team that is 9-1 and just really beating up on everyone they play," said Marcini.

Next year the Rockets are scheduled to return to the County Division when Windham and East Canton depart for other leagues. The switch will require Streetsboro to drop 12 games off its current schedule in order to pick up 12 County Division games.

BOMBER COMPARISONS

County Division teams arriving at Marty Hill Court in Windham are faced with an intimidating venue much like traveling to Mogadore in football season.

Basketball in Windham is a historic item and this season the team appears ready for another long tournament run.

Coach Marty Hill, however, still likes to take care of duties in division play. Even though the Bombers made a run to the Division IV Canton Regional last year, Hill still talks about how the team was unable to win a division title.

The Bombers only loss this season came at the hands of two-time defending Division IV state champion Berlin Hiland. On Friday, the first half of the division schedule will be completed when Windham travels to rival Garfield.

With a 10-1 start on the season, one could quickly compare previous Windham teams and players.

The Bombers' teams of 1977-78 and 1984-85 both ran the regular-season table with undefeated records. The '78 team lost to Sebring in the district finals and the '85 team lost in the regional to Columbus Werhle. Windham has made three trips to the state final four, in 1976, 1982 and 2006.

Hill believes the comparison of those teams and today is all about balance and depth and usually senior leadership.

G-MEN BATTLE

Garfield beat Rootstown on Tuesday and took Southeast to the wire last Friday losing by a point.

The bottom line?

The G-Men are better than their 3-7 record and second-year coach Andy Olesky believes his team has to be aggressive against the Bombers.

"I think what sets Windham apart from the rest of us is their fundamentals. They are very well coached and do all the little things right," said Olesky. "In this league, if you can do those things, you will have success."

Matt Pratt scored 21 points for the Bombers in the Rootstown win.

"Matt has really stepped up for us this year. He has become more vocal both in the locker room, on the floor and in school. I have always said that Matt is the best ball-defender I have ever coached.

"We are always excited about playing Windham so we will be ready," concluded Olesky.

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