By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
Bobby Staudt has a vision for his Rootstown boys basketball team.
On Friday, he saw glimpses of that vision.
The Rovers, however, were left with glimpses of a win that ultimately drifted out of reach.
Right there to snag up the victory was Springfield.
The Spartans erased a double-digit first half deficit, still trailed in the fourth quarter, but found a way to push the game into overtime, then capitalized on the extra chance to claim a 53-48 non-league win.
But not before thrilling finishes to both regulation and overtime.
Aiden Rodstrom put Rootstown ahead 39-37 with 51.2 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. The senior forward banked in a tough layup just inside the low block on the left side of the lane.
The Spartans tied the score on a driving layup by Anthony Ahern, who was fouled on the play as well, with 30.7 seconds remaining. Ahern missed his bonus free-throw attempt to keep the score knotted 39-39.
On its ensuing possession, Rootstown ran the clock down to 4.6 seconds, then called timeout to set up an out-of-bounds play underneath its own basket.
The play was defended well, but a loose ball was picked up by the Rovers underneath the basket, but the layup rimmed out. The rebound fell right into the hands of Rootstown and another putback layup also skipped across the rim and out just before the buzzer sounded to send the game into overtime.
The extra period started a little slow, but then the Spartans put together two signature plays that eventually proved to be the difference-makers.
The first was a layup by Collin Siegferth that started on an inbounds pass approximately 60 feet from the basket. The Spartans’ guard used a speed dribble to get away from the press-man defense and as he crossed half court, a lane to the hoop never closed and without any helpside defense for the Rovers, Siegferth pushed it all the way to the basket for the easy layup.
Moments later, Springfield’s Brady Hahn pulled down an offensive rebound in traffic, pinched the ball tight while in traffic and turned away from the chaos to find Ahern unguarded at the top of the 3-point arc. Hahn sent a pass to Ahern, who stepped with rhythm into a 3 that was pure.
Still, the Spartans nearly left the door open for the Rovers to tie the game late by missing free throws, coupled with made 3-pointers by Rodstrom and Blake Mullaly, made for an interesting finish that had the Rovers down by as little as 2 with less than 30 seconds left in overtime.
The rally fell short of reaching the finish line, though, and the Spartans, led by Ahern, connected on enough free throws in the closing moments to secure the win.
“Brady and Anthony are players that have been doing this for three years now,” Springfield coach Kyle Dack said. “Anthony is a great shooter, and we have kind of come to expect him to hit those big shots for us. And, for Brady, to get that rebound and then pass it out to Anthony, that is his style. He is so unselfish in those moments and is always willing to do whatever our team needs to win a game.”
Staudt, in his first game with the Rovers, offered praise for his team’s effort, but also stopped short of stamping it as a moral victory.
“We are trying to change how we do things, and I don’t want to be a program that is about moral victories,” Staudt said. “I want us to be the program that finds a way to win these types of games.
“We played really hard tonight, and I am not discounting that. I don’t think anyone could say that we didn’t play hard to night. We did a decent job executing our gameplan, but we had some breakdowns that hurt us, especially in overtime. Executing 90 percent of the time is not good enough and won’t get it done at the varsity level. We need to execute 100 percent to win tough games.”
The Rovers did play a near-perfect first half. They led 7-5 after the first quarter, then ballooned the advantage to 26-15 by the end of the first half, which was capped off by a late 3 by Joe Weaver.
The double-digit lead came after the Spartans took an 11-9 lead on a basket by Ahern midway through the second quarter.
Rootstown proceeded to go on a 10-2 run to pull back ahead 19-13. The spurt was jumpstarted by a 3-pointer from Mullaly, which was followed by a long 2-point jumper and a 3 from Cameron Mahone, then an offensive-rebound putback layup by Carson Hayn.
It was all part of a 19-point second quarter for the Rovers. It was the most comfortable the team’s offense looked in the game. Once the second half began, finding points became a grind for the Rovers — in part because of the Spartans’ increased on-ball pressure.
Ahern, who struggled to find his range in the first half, got hot in the third quarter (13 points). He finished with 31 points for the game and scored 26 in the second half and overtime. Braden Farmer added six points and seven rebounds for the Spartans.
Rodstrom led Rootstown offensively with 17 points. He also had seven rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and two steals. Mahone had 11 points, while Mullaly finished with eight points and six rebounds for the Rovers. Weaver also had four assists.