by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Hudson -- Trailing defending Northeast Ohio Conference River Division champion Brush by two games midway through the season, the Hudson boys basketball team needed to make up some ground if it had hopes of winning its first-ever River crown.
The still need some help, but the Explorers are making things interesting.
Hudson handed the Arcs their first division loss after posting a 54-47 victory Feb. 5 at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium. With the win, the Explorers improved to 13-4 overall and 4-2 in the division. Brush fell to 10-5 overall and 4-1 in the division.
The Arcs and Cuyahoga Falls still have to finish a game that originally took place Jan. 11 stopped by a power outage. Brush led 50-46 after three quarters when the lights went out.
"We don't control our own destiny, but we are better off than we were," Hudson coach Jeff Brink said after his team won its sixth straight game. "For the Northeast Ohio Conference, we not only opened the door for ourselves -- we gave everybody a chance. The win definitely opened up some opportunities."
Those opportunities were wasted by two other hopefuls in the six-team division. Twinsburg (11-4, 4-2) lost a 75-72 decision to Solon and Stow-Munroe Falls (9-9, 2-4) scored a 58-57 triple-overtime win over Cuyahoga Falls (11-6, 2-3).
"We have to win out and keep playing how we've been playing," junior guard John Zuccaro said after finishing with 10 points.
Over the past seven games, the 5-foot-11 John Zuccaro's outside shooting has been very effective. The standout guard has shot 50 percent (8-of-16) from outside the arc during that span.
"John Zuccaro has been an unsung hero for us all year," Brink said. "He gives us ball-handling, plays solid defense, makes the open three and takes the ball to the rim. He has had a phenomenal year for us."
Zuccaro's ball-handling against the Arcs' pressure was stellar as he lost the ball just once. As a team, the Explorers fared well in that category with just eight miscues to 11 for Brush.
Zuccaro also came out of the gates hot, scoring the game's first points and totaling five in the first quarter. It was the third straight game he was Hudson's top scorer in the opening period.
It was role reversal for the two teams compared to the first meeting.
In the Arcs' 75-65 win on their own court earlier this season, Brush jumped out to an 8-0 lead and made 10-of-15 shots in the first quarter, while the Explorers missed 13 of their first 17 shots.
This time, Hudson converted 7-of-10 to start the contest to Brush's 4-of-12. As a result the Explorers scored the first nine points of the game.
With the help of three-pointers by Zack Brandy (16 points) and Zuccaro, Hudson opened a 14-3 lead and held a 16-10 lead after one quarter. The Explorers spent the rest of the game weathering the Arcs' surges.
Although Brush never led, the Arcs closed to within one four times in the second half.
Kevin Zullo (six points) came off the bench to knock down a pair of three-pointers in the second quarter, but Brush pecked away at the lead, closing to 28-23 at the half. Brandy connected on the 100th three-pointer of his career early in the third quarter to squelch an 8-0 Arcs' spurt that cut the gap to one (28-27). Brandy's two free throws with a half a second left in the third made the score 38-35.
Brush scored two more times early in the fourth quarter to close to within one, but each time, Hudson answered. After a Steve Boslet layup widened the lead back to three (42-39), Brandy made a huge tip-in of his own miss for a five-point lead with 3:58 left.
The Arcs kept hanging around, but a Mitch Guadagni (nine points) runner and two huge free throws from Alex Mushock (10 points and eight rebounds) kept Brush at bay. Mushock's foul shots with 50.4 remaining made it a two-possession game (50-45) and the Explorers made just enough at the line (10-of-14) in the final stanza to close out the win.
"This was classic Hudson basketball," Brink said. "Not one player dominated the game. It was hard work, tooth and nails. We had to dig down and look the opponent in the eye and we are still there. People are waiting for us to fade away. They keep waiting for us to slip up, but our kids keep battling and winning."
The Explorers were scheduled to entertain Falls Feb. 8. Results were not available at press time. They are set to host Stow Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m.