by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Hudson -- In the first three years of the Hudson Holiday Classic, there have been three different champions.
There will not be a fourth champion this year.
The Hudson and Bainbridge Township Kenston boys basketball team got a chance to win their second consecutive title after winning their games Dec. 29 at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium.
The Explorers posted a 57-48 win over Streetsboro and the Bombers earned a 43-40 victory over Boardman.
Hudson was scheduled to play Kenston in the championship game Dec. 30. Results were not available at press time.
The Explorers, who defeated the Bombers 48-43 in last year's championship game, reached the championship game for the fourth time.
Streetsboro has lost four straight opening-round games to the Explorers, but this one was the closest. Hudson won 81-48 in 2012, 50-34 the following year and 56-32 a year ago.
It looked like history was going to repeat itself as the Explorers (4-2) pulled out to a 26-11 advantage midway through the second quarter.
Hudson led by double digits most of the way, including a 44-28 lead heading into the final eight minutes.
Behind a full-court press and some deadly outside shooting, the Rockets (3-3) put together a 12-2 spurt that cut the lead to six (52-46) with 2 minutes, 26 seconds remaining.
But the Explorers iced the win by knocking down 5-of-7 shots from the foul line.
"You have to give Streetsboro a lot of credit," Hudson head coach Jeff Brink said. "They outworked us. In terms of loose balls and rebounds, they were the better team [Dec. 29].
"Luckily, we made enough plays to hold them off."
Despite a decided height advantage, the Explorers were outrebounded 30-28. Hudson's front three of Isaac MacGillis, David O'Connor and Alex Beck go 6-foot-9, 6-7 and 6-2,respectively, while the Rockets start 6-3 Avery Van Reeth, 6-2 Jerry Judd and 6-2 Cory Gillings.
Judd led all players with 10 rebounds and Van Reeth added 8. Judd also had 14 points. O'Connor topped Hudson with 6 rebounds and MacGillis added 5.
The rebounding edge in the second half (16-10) was just a part of the comeback story for the Rockets as they forced seven Explorer turnovers in the fourth quarter with their full-court pressure.
Bobby Dixon scored nine of his team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter.
The 5-10 senior got things going with a steal that ended with a three-point play off a fast break layup and one.
With the deficit still at double digits (52-40), Dixon hit back-to-back 3-pointers just 26 seconds apart to make it a two-possession game with 2:26 to play.
MacGillis (12 points) stopped the comeback, making both ends of a one and one with 1:23 showing on the clock. Jackson Parker hit 3-of-4 from the stripe in the final seconds to ice the win for Hudson.
Despite the late problems handling the ball (each team had 15 turnovers) and losing the rebounding battle, the Explorers prevailed with three positives.
Hudson converted 11-of-15 from the foul line, including 6-of-8 in the fourth quarter (the Rockets made 11-of-18). Hudson had four players in double figures for the first time this season and it had a season-best 8-of-13 effort from the 3-point line.
Senior Zack Meder led the Explorers with three 3-pointers for a team-high 15 points. MacGillis added two triples. Meder has 67 career 3s and MacGillis has 32. However, Peter Funk (two) and Alex Beck (one) each knocked down their first varsity 3-pointers. The duo also scored a career-high 10 points apiece. Funk came in with 6 career points.
"We need some guys to step up and basically win a position," Brink said. "Peter Funk came in and hit a couple huge threes for us. Four guys in double digits is more like we want to be offensively. I'm happy we are walking out with a W, but it leaves a sour taste in your mouth for the way we played.
Hudson's junior varsity squad earned a 51-47 win. Alex Jackson led the Explorers with 16 points and Kevin McBride and Evan Jones added 14 and 13 points, respectively.
The varsity team is scheduled to visit Suburban League National Conference rival Twinsburg Jan. 5 before returning home for a conference showdown with Wadsworth Jan. 8. Both varsity games are set to begin at 7:30 p.m.