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by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Medina -- Delay, stall or hold the ball.
Whatever name you call it, Hudson head boys basketball coach Jeff Brink is familiar with the slow-down tactic implemented by Highland when the Explorers traveled to Medina Jan. 29.
Brink saw the ploy used against his squads many times in his coaching days at New Middletown Springfield and he also has used it himself a few times in his six-plus years at Hudson.
Although they made just 33 (13-of-39) percent of their shots, the Explorers prevailed by a 37-33 count to raise their record to 11-4 thus far. Highland, which also utilized a triangle-and-two-defense, fell to 9-7.
"We've been in their shoes before," Brink said of the Hornets. "We have a lot of respect for them. They did a great job defensively. We kind of prepared for gimmicks. Defensively, we were patient but they were hot and shot the ball well in the first half.
"Our 'D' stepped up in the second half. The big thing is when you're facing those gimmick defenses, you've got to make shots.
"The shot selection wasn't what we wanted it to be, especially in the first half. We rushed a few shots."
Despite the bumps along the way, Hudson won its fourth straight game with key contributions from the bench. Since Highland focused on top scorers Zack Brandy and Steve Boslet (the two players combined for just five points on the evening), the Explorers got some scoring punch from reserves
Mitch Guadagni and Kevin Zullo and starting point guard John Zuccaro.
Zuccaro hit for five first-quarter points and eight on the night, setting the stage for Zullo and Guadagni to come to the rescue late.
Zullo hit one three-pointer in each of the final three quarters and totaled nine points, while Guadagni scored all of his game high eleven points in the last three periods including Hudson's final six points.
"Mitch and Kevin were huge," Brink said. "Mitch gave us unbelievable minutes and made clutch free throws. He had a couple huge blocked shots. He was the spark that we needed. Kevin's threes got us in position to take the lead. Once we got the lead, we were in pretty good position."
The Hornets' slow-down tactics got a boost in the early going as the Explorers came out of the gates cold, making just 3-of-12 shots in the first quarter.
Highland hit 5-of-9 shots in the period to lead 14-7. The Hornets took only seven shots in the second quarter. Austin Casenhiser (a team-high nine points) hit a trio of three-pointers in the period for all of Highland's points.
After trailing 23-15 at the half, Hudson extended its zone in the third quarter.
The Hornets cooled down, making just 2-of-8 shots, but the Explorers weren't much better (4-of-15). Zuccaro's second triple and one by Brandy (five points, five rebounds) started the comeback, but six straight missed shots allowed Highland to hold a slim lead. Zullo hit a huge three with four seconds left to close the gap to one (27-26) after three.
After a Hornets' free throw, Mushock took a pass from Boslet and converted a baby hook to pull Hudson even (28-28 with less than seven minutes to play). Zullo then gave the Explorers their first lead of the night at 31-28 by drilling a trey from the left wing at the 5:26 mark.
At the 3:20 mark, Guadagni began his late heroics.
The sophomore hit both ends of a one and one for a five-point bulge, but Highland's Jordan Frederick (six points) hit a three with 2:54 left, making the score 33-31 in favor of the Explorers.
Following a big steal by Boslet, who sat much of the game with foul trouble but did turn in two drawn charges to aid the cause, Guadagni returned to the line at the 56.5-second mark. Once again, he converted both ends for a four-point lead.
Guadagni eventually sealed the deal when he scored on a breakaway after receiving a long pass from Alex Mushock.
"It was a little frustrating playing them," Guadagni said. "It was hard getting our leading scorers the ball. We rebounded well and got some fast-break shots."
Hudson was scheduled to visit Orange Feb. 2 in Pepper Pike. Results were not available at press time.
The Explorers are set to entertain Northeast Ohio Conference River Division rival Brush Feb. 5 at 7:30 p.m.