by Rob Barrone
Medina -- With the game on the line, who do you foul?
Highland head boys basketball coach Adam Cestaro was faced with that question Feb. 9 when visiting Hudson held the ball and a slim lead in the waning seconds of a Suburban League crossover game between the Hornets and the Explorers.
Cestaro stayed away from Zack Meder (78 percent) and Isaac MacGillis (67 percent) and decided to send less proven foul shooters Spencer McClure and Mike Piekarski to the foul line for pivotal free throws down the stretch.
The two guards came through for Hudson, making some huge charity tosses to help the Explorers to a 58-51 victory over Highland Feb. 9 in Medina.
Hudson, which earned its eighth consecutive victory, improved to 15-4. The Hornets fell to 11-8.
"It was a dogfight," Explorers head coach Jeff Brink said. "In a close ballgame, you want to keep it on multiple possessions. We did a nice job of doing that down the stretch."
Piekarski came into the game having converted half of his free throws (5-of-10) on the season while McClure was 11-of-18.
Their percentages were much better on this night.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Piekarski converted both ends of a one and one to give Hudson its biggest lead of the game (52-45 with 4 minutes, 6 seconds left) in what was a nip and tuck battle all night.
McClure then went to the line for the biggest fouls shots of the game: a one and one with 1:12 left and the Explorers nursing a 52-49 advantage.
The junior made both shots.
Twenty seconds later Piekarski, was back at the line for two more shots. He split the pair.
Meder then closed out the night, making 3-of-4 in the final 32 seconds.
The Explorers converted 10-of-14 from the stripe in the final eight minutes and 16-of-23 for the game.
"Mikey's free throws were huge down the stretch," Brink said. "The one and one and then splitting the other pair. Three of four for him was huge in the fourth quarter.
"Spencer had four points in the fourth quarter and his two free throws were huge.
"Between the two that was five of six from our guards and then throw in Meder's four of six in the fourth quarter."
Highland opened the game, hitting the deep ball early and often.
Hudson led 17-13 after one quarter. MacGillis, Meder and Jackson Park scored all of the Explorers' points in the second period.
After the Hornets missed a shot with 4 seconds left, Parker pulled down the rebound and found Meder for a buzzer-beating layup to give Hudson a 29-27 advantage at halftime.
Parker finished with a career-high 8 rebounds and tied his career-high scoring mark with 13 points.
"He had a phenomenal game," Brink said of the 6-foot-4 Parker, who has replaced the injured Alex Beck in the starting lineup for the past three games. "We talked about the matchups with the big lineup on the floor.
"A lot of times Jackson is our best matchup in the paint. He was a load in there. He did a nice job attacking the rim.
"A key play was him punching the ball out there for the quick outlet at the end of the half. That was a good momentum builder to take into the locker room."
There were 12 lead changes and two ties in the first half.
Meder took over the scoring duties in the third quarter.
The 5-10 senior scored all 13 Explorer points in a period that featured five more ties.
Meder's 3-pointer with 52 seconds left in the third gave Hudson the lead (42-39) for good heading into the fourth quarter.
Meder ended with a game-high 25 points. He made 8-of-14 shots from the floor and 7-of-10 from the foul line.
Although it misfired on its last 13 3-point attempts, Highland stayed in the game.
But the clutch foul shooting of Piekarski and McClure sealed the deal for the Explorers.
Beck's recovery from a knee injury may be ahead of schedule as the 6-3 junior could see action again soon.
Meanwhile, Parker has filled the void very well.
"Since Beck went down with that injury coach asked me to step in," Parker said. "We decided to go big [with the 6-9 MacGillis, 6-7 Dave O'Connor as well as 6-5 reserve Ryan Martin] and it has worked to our advantage.
"We have been on a roll lately. We haven't missed a beat since Beck went down. I have to do what I can do and not try to do too much. I'm trying to fill in where Beck left off with his energy and hustle."
MacGillis had 13 points and 11 rebounds for Hudson. Collin Rittman led the Hornets with 19 points.
The Explorers lost 58-52 in the junior varsity contest. Davey Spitz led Hudson with 9 points.
The Explorers' freshman team improved to 18-0 with a 47-31 win. William Wallace led Hudson with 11 points and Brandon Lal finished with 10 points.
All three teams were scheduled to host Suburban League National Conference rival Twinsburg Feb. 12. Results were not available at press time.
They are set to visit National Conference foe Wadsworth Feb. 16. Varsity tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
The varsity squad earned the fourth seed at the Copley Division I sectional-district tournament.
The Explorers are scheduled to host the Wadsworth-Stow-Munroe Falls' winner in a sectional title contest Feb. 27. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.