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by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Pepper Pike -- Pretty? No.
The Hudson boys basketball team won its fifth consecutive game after posting a 56-46 victory over Orange Feb. 2 in Pepper Pike.
At times, the Explorers struggled, but they got key contributions from their bench -- particularly Kevin Zullo and Mitch Guadagni.
"Once again, our bench picked us up with Mitch Guadagni and Kevin Zullo doing a fantastic job," Hudson head coach Jeff Brink said. "We didn't play our best. We got sloppy, the execution was poor and we made mental and physical mistakes. It kind of snowballed, but to our kids' credit, they didn't blink. We stood up and answered the bell .
They found a way to win on a night where we played maybe one of our worst games of the season."
Guadagni and Zullo, who had 11 and nine points, respectively, off the bench four nights earlier in a 37-33 win at Highland, gave the Explorers a lift when they needed it. Guadagni didn't miss a shot, making all four he took (including a three) for nine points. Zullo hit a three in every quarter on a 4-of-8 effort outside the arc and totaled 13 points.
"Ben [Gedeon] is out, so people are stepping in," Zullo said. "When we get our call, we step up. Mitch is doing a great job coming off the bench. [Colin] Hogan, stepping in for Ben, is doing a great job. Whenever your name is called, you just come in and do your best."
The lift from the bench was critical as the Explorers' usually reliable foul-shooting touch failed them on this night.
Hudson (12-4) made just 10-of-20 from the stripe. The Lions made 12-of-19 foul shots.
Despite ending with a team-high 16 points, Zack Brandy made 7-of-14 at the line. Steve Boslet (three points) was saddled with foul trouble for the second straight game.
"That's an anomaly," Brink said. "Steve and Zack have been money all year, but they didn't shoot them well. Brandy came in shooting 75 percent, while Boslet leads the team at 85 percent."
While the free throw line wasn't kind to the Explorers, the three-point arc was. Hudson converted 8-of-18 from down town compared to 11-of-30 on two-point shots.
"Eight for 18 -- that's pretty good," Brink said. "Kevin made some huge shots and not only that, he took a couple charges and had some big rebounds and steals."
The Explorers scored the first seven points and led 17-5 after one quarter. Hudson led by as many as 17 (31-14) with a little more than three minutes in the half before the Explorers' wheels started to wobble.
The Lions opened the third quarter on a 9-1 run to cut Hudson's advantage to three (35-32).
But the Explorers regained their focus.
Guadagni knocked down a three and Alex Mushock, who had eight points, 11 rebounds and six assists, scored a layup and Zullo hit a three. After Zullo's bomb, Hudson was up nine (43-34) after three quarters of play.
Although the Explorers made just 6-of-13 from the line in the final eight minutes, it was more than enough for the win. Spencer Williams led Orange with 18 points.
"Get a win and get out the door," Brink said. "As bad as we played, some of our guys made crucial plays when we had to get them. We were fortunate to answer the bell and come out with the 'W.' We made enough plays when we had to. You're going to have nights like this, but you have to find a way to win."
Hudson was scheduled to host Northeast Ohio Conference River Division rival Brush Feb. 5. Results were not available at press time.
The Explorers are set to entertain River Division foe Cuyahoga Falls Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m.