by Rob Barrone
Hudson -- There didn't seem to be a lot on the line when the Hudson boys basketball team hosted Suburban League National Conference rival Stow Feb. 5 in Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium.
Brecksville-Broadview Heights is running away from the pack with a two-game lead over Stow and three over the Explorers with four games remaining.
What were they playing for?
Hudson and the Bulldogs seemed to be playing for second place. There was also seeding in the upcoming postseason tournament.
With the votes being tallied less than 48 hours later, the winner would most likely be seeded higher than the loser.
Of course there also was pride on the line in the neighboring rivalry.
In the end, the host Explorers pulled even with Stow in the National Conference standings after scoring a 49-37 win.
Surprisingly, at the same time, the first-place Bees lost a shocker 48-44 to North Royalton to fall to 10-1 in the National race. This essentially leaves the door open as both Hudson and Stow control their destinies. Two games back with three to go, both clubs still have a meeting with Brecksville.
The Bulldogs hosts the Bees Feb. 16 and the Explorers (14-4, 8-3), winners of seven straight games as of press time, travel to Brecksville for their regular season finale Feb. 19.
"We are playing pretty good right now," Hudson head coach Jeff Brink said.
Stow (15-4, 8-3) and the Explorers could meet again early in the tourney.
Hudson is seeded fourth in the Copley Division I sectional-district tournament.
Brunswick received the top seed and Medina, Akron Archbishop Hoban and the Bulldogs got the second, third and fifth seeds, respectively.
The Explorers earned an opening-round bye and are scheduled to host the Stow-Wadsworth winner in a sectional title game Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs are set to entertain the Grizzlies in a sectional semifinal game Feb. 24 at 7 p.m.
While success in the postseason is pretty much every team's goal from day one, a conference title is a nice prize along the way.
Brecksville's loss and the remaining matchups have made that chase a little more interesting.
Hudson forced the tie for second place using its height, outside shooting ability and in the end, hitting clutch free throws.
The Explorers converted 8-of-14 3-point tries on the evening. On the season, Hudson has converted 44 percent from outside the arc and have been heating up as of late. In the previous five wins, the Explorers have made 52 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
Isaac MacGillis led the way, making three 3-pointers. His teammates Zack Meder, who made two, Mike Piekarski, Spencer McClure and Peter Funk combined to go 5-for-5 from behind the arc. Stow took twice as many 3s (28) and made just eight.
The Explorers went right to work from downtown, making their first two outside attempts and grabbing a quick 12-2 lead.
They also scored inside, making their first two there as well and wasted no time utilizing their four-inch height advantage.
Hudson's starting front line featured the 6-foot-9 MacGillis, 6-7 Dave O'Connor and 6-4 Jackson Parker. MacGillis led all scorers with 22 points.
"Hudson really played well," Close said. "They made some shots early. They put that gigantic lineup out there to start the game and they exploited that pretty early.
"They made a lot of shots. MacGillis made some shots and they had some role players step up and make shots. There are certain guys you key on and when their role players step in and make jumpers, that can be a backbreaker."
"MacGillis did a great job all around ... blocking shots, altering shots, on the glass, passing the ball, handling the ball and breaking pressure and our supporting cast has shot the ball very well," Brink said. "Mikey [Piekarski] has done a great job throughout the year. Spencer [McClure] and Peter Funk step in and make a pivotal three. What people don't realize is we have done that all year."
The Bulldogs battled back after trailing 16-4. However, in a span of less than three minutes, both teams put on a 3-point shooting clinic.
Guard Coryon Rice, who had 14 points, made three 3-pointers and guard Logan Lindsay converted two for Stow. Meder had two 3s and MacGillis and McClure added one apiece. Forward Justin Harvey scored five straight points late in the half to cut the Bulldogs' deficit to 33-27 at halftime.
Stow was within striking distance when Nathan Bower-Malone, who led the Bulldogs with 17 points, knocked down a 3 early in the third quarter to cut the Explorers' deficit to three (33-30).
Stow had four chances to tie the game, but the Bulldogs didn't connect.
Hudson took advantage.
The Explorers ran off 12 unanswered points in a span of more than four minutes.
Funk concluded the run with a 3 to give Hudson a 49-34 advantage with 5 minutes, 43 seconds left.
"In that spell, we had a couple of mental breakdowns defensively," Close said. "At the same time, we just missed some shots. We got some looks, but not the shots we are necessarily used to taking. Hudson's defense makes you do some different things. Hudson played really well. If they play like that, they are going to be very difficult to beat."
During its 12-0 run, Meder, the Explorers' leading scorer, did not take a single shot.
"Zack being a good basketball player could have forced more shots, but he made sure the proper guys got the ball to make plays," Brink said.
In the fourth quarter, Hudson iced the game, making 10-of-11 free throws (19-of-22 for the game). McClure was 4-4 in the waning seconds and MacGillis was 6-of-6 (9-of-10) overall.
"It's great to beat Stow," MacGillis said. "We don't have any other big games like that, so it's great to have a big crowd and perform well. With [Alex] Beck out [knee injury], Ryan Martin came in and gave us a lot of good minutes at the post. Mike Pie handled the ball well. We had a lot of guys score off the bench."
Hudson's junior varsity team fell to 11-7 overall and 5-6 in the conference after losing to the Bulldogs 55-37. Davey Spitz led the Explorers with 9 points.
Hudson's freshman team rallied from a huge deficit to improve to 17-0.
Trailing 44-29 with 4:28 to play, the Explorers rallied for a 45-43 victory over Stow.
The Bulldogs had a 3-pointer miss at the buzzer. Brandon Lal led Hudson with 13 points and William Wallace added 9 points.
All three teams were scheduled to visit Suburban League crossover rival Highland Feb. 9 in Medina. Results were not available at press time.
They are set to host National Conference foe Twinsburg Feb. 12. Varsity tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.