By Jim Manion | Correspondent
The Mogadore Wildcats had a couple things on their mind when they invaded Rootstown on Friday night to begin the second half of the Portage Trail Conference County Division. The Wildcats (10-2, 7-1 PTC County) had to take care of business with the host Rovers, but they also had to be thinking about the Windham Bombers, who they trailed by one game in the division standings.
The Wildcats eventually took care of business with a 55-40 victory over Rootstown, but not before an inspired effort by the winless Rovers. Windham defeat Woodridge 78-64 on Friday, so the Wildcats remain one game back of the Bombers with a scheduled rematch in February in Mogadore.
Tyler Skipper scored 13 of the Rovers' 15 first-quarter points and also pulled down five rebounds in the period as Rootstown matched Mogadore basket-for-basket. Hunter Van Camp put up eight points for the Wildcats in the first quarter, which ended 15-15.
Austin Mahoney had one of his best shooting nights of the season for Mogadore. He drilled four 3-pointers in the first half to give his team some offensive boost as the Wildcats pulled out to a 33-26 halftime lead.
The Rovers cut a 36-point Mogadore victory in early December to a 15-point verdict Friday night, and did not look like a winless team for most of the contest. Mogadore meshed the nets for seven 3-pointers in the game, while the Rovers could only score once from behind the arc. Twenty turnovers were costly for Rootstown, as the Wildcats turned up the defense in the second half while committing only two turnovers in the final two quarters.
"I am extremely happy with our effort tonight," said Rootstown coach Steve Beshara. "Mogadore is a team that knows how to win and we don't. I don't want to say we outplayed them, but I don't think they outplayed us either. Those turnovers late were really costly and they caused us to panic, but overall I am really proud of our guys. We are playing harder and developing chemistry."
The downfall for Rootstown came in the third quarter, when the Rovers could net only four points after going scoreless for the first six minutes of the second half.
According to Mogadore coach Russ Swartz, that was the discussion at intermission.
"I think we picked it up defensively in the second half after standing around and not executing in the first half," said Swartz.
Van Camp led the Mogadore scoring parade with 20 points, while Mahoney scored 16 and senior forward Gary Strain pulled down nine rebounds.
Rootstown (0-13, 0-8 PTC County) scored a pair of buckets inside the two-minute mark of the third quarter when Evan Ferrell went to the basket for two layups, but that was the only Rover scoring of the third quarter. However, the Wildcats netted only nine points in the quarter, with Brandon Morris and Evan Uhalley each hitting a 3-pointer to give Mogadore a 42-30 advantage entering the fourth quarter.
Van Camp scored eight straight points for Mogadore in the final stanza, and Casey Ruppel closed out the scoring by hitting the final 3 of the contest with inside of one minute left.
"When you're not used to being near the top, our kids have to realize that you have a bull's-eye on your back," said Swartz. "Everybody brings their 'A' game because you'll make their season. Rootstown definitely brought their 'A' game tonight."
Skipper, a 5-foot-11 junior, had a career-high 16 points and seven rebounds, while Ferrell scored 12 points for the Rovers.