Blue Jays edge Lowellville in early-season thriller
NORTH JACKSON — In the year of COVID-19, the unexpected is truly the expected and the norm.
At one point Friday night, it was an offensive struggle between Jackson-Milton and Lowellville, with neither team able to buy a bucket.
Then, it turned into one of the more thrilling games of the early part of the season with five lead changes in the final 10 minutes of play.
In the end, Jackson-Milton came away with a 44-42 victory over Lowellville in Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference play.
In the first half, the teams combined to shoot 26 percent from the floor. The score was 11-10 with 3:30 left in the second quarter.
“We were just stagnant on offense,” Lowellville coach Matt Olson said. “I don’t know, to be honest. We did miss a lot of shots, a lot of layups and bunnies. I thought it was pretty physical both ways. I thought there could have been more fouls on either side. It made it kind of hard to score for both teams.”
The Rockets (1-2, 0-2) built out a two-possession game at multiple stages in the first half. Despite their offensive woes, they seemed to have everything under control with only A.J. Bouch presenting the only real issue, scoring six points in the opening frame while holding Mason Robinson scoreless.
“In the first half and throughout a lot of the game, they were playing that 1-3 zone with a guy facing-guarding Mason,” Jackson-Milton coach Steve Procopio said. “They attempted to take away Mason and our other guys stayed with it and hung in there. It was a team effort tonight. You could take away one guy, but the other four stepped up tonight. They played really well. That was a struggle in the first half.”
After the rough first quarter-and-a-half, both teams started making some shots. Lowellville held a 20-16 lead at the half.
The Rockets had three players in double figures, Anthony Lucente (14 points), Vinny Ballone (13 points), and Cole Bunofsky (12 points).
Robinson’s 3-pointer to start the third quarter made it 20-19, but Lowellville continued to have the answers, building a 27-22 lead after a Ballone bucket midway through the quarter.
“We made some minor adjustments,” Procopio said. “We knew that if we could get the ball into our big man in the middle, he would make the right passes and kick it out to our shooters. We told our guys there were spots in that zone. We just had to find them. We told the kids that you have 16 minutes left, you got to give it everything you got.”
The Blue Jays (2-2, 1-1) responded with a 9-0 run to take their first lead since the first quarter with 3:34 left.
Then with less than three seconds left in the quarter and Jackson-Milton clinging to a 33-31 lead, Ballone was fouled and made his three free throws to give the Rockets a 34-33 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“That’s a tough way to end a quarter,” Procopio said. “A couple of years ago, that’s a game where we might have gotten a little shook up. Tonight, they were composed. They did all the right things.”
In the fourth quarter, Nick McGinnis came up huge for Jackson-Milton scoring all 11 of its points with three big 3s and Lowellville had no answers for it in the end. He led the Blue Jays with a game-high 16 points.
“They got a couple of timely 3s there at the end,” Olson said. “We were right there. It was a two-point game. It was 30 seconds on the clock. They passed it in and the clock read 24 seconds. They got a timeout and six seconds ran off the clock. There was a lot of confusion there on the last possession. To be honest, I’m not sure how they got a timeout after six seconds.”
Procopio credited his seniors for making the timely timeout to avoid a turnover or a five-second call when the Blue Jays needed to run out the clock to avoid a free-throw game at the end.
“Our kids executed,” he said. “We have a lot of seniors on the floor. They executed. We had another senior on the floor that knew the situation. He knew we were in trouble and used the timeout on the floor. It’s a long season. This year, we don’t only have 22 opponents, we have 23. We play COVID on a daily basis. It’s a long year. We’re happy with the effort.”
Story and pictures courtesy of the Vindicator.
Lowellville JV defeated Jackson-Milton 30-26 and the Lowellville freshman defeated Jackson-Milton 44-12. The Rockets return to action Tuesday as they travel to Sebring to continue league play. 5:30 JV start with varsity to follow.