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by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Hudson -- Defense, defense and more defense.
On a night where defense was nearly the whole story, it was one momentary lapse defensively that finally ended a marathon in this hard-court confrontation between Northeast Ohio Conference and neighboring rivals Stow-Munroe Falls and Hudson.
When the Explorers' Zack Brandy's shot for the win at the end of the third overtime period came off the front of the rim, most in attendance at Hudson High School's Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium probably had thoughts of a fourth extra session briefly enter their thoughts.
Not Hudson 6-foot-3 guard Steve Boslet.
Boslet's tip-in just before the buzzer gave the Explorers a 39-37 victory over the Bulldogs Feb. 12.
With the win, Hudson earned its eighth straight win and remained in a first place tie in the NOC River Division. The Explorers (15-4) improved to 6-2 in the River Division.
Twinsburg also improved to 6-2 in the division after posting a 68-66 win over Cuyahoga Falls Feb. 12. Stow dropped to 9-11 overall and 2-6 in the division.
"Both teams played very good defense," Hudson head coach Jeff Brink said. "Our defense was tremendous and they [the Bulldogs] did a phenomenal job. It was a battle. Every possession was a battle. We were fortunate to get a 'W.'"
The Bulldogs made 12-of-38 shots, while the Explorers made just 13-of-46.
That play came after the Bulldogs' Matt Beech (a game-high 19 points) came to teammate Tyler DeVitis' aid as Brandy got free for a running shot at the lead in the waning seconds. Beech swatted the attempt out of bounds with 2.9 seconds left in the scoreless third overtime. The Explorers got what they wanted on the inbound play, but Brandy's turn-around shot from the right side was contested and came off the rim.
Fortunately for Hudson, it went right into the waiting hands of Boslet, who finished with four points and six rebounds.
"We were trying to get Zack Brandy isolated on the block," Brink said. "We got him the ball and were hoping to get a call or make the shot. You have to give Steve credit. He didn't quit on the play. He went after the rebound and got a free look on an easy tip. That's perseverance."
The winning opportunity was the Explorers' fourth in the four possible final seconds: Mitch Guadagni missed a half-court desperation heave at the end of regulation; an inside look in the final seconds of the first overtime by Alex Mushock; and a three from the corner to close out the second extra period, again by Guadagni.
While both Guadagni (eight points, seven rebounds, two steals and a block) and Mushock (four points and six rebounds before fouling out) missed opportunities to be the hero, each had his share of big plays in a game where the Explorers failed to score for the first 11 minutes, 34 seconds.
Stow's defense, especially that played by DeVitis on Brandy, stymied Hudson for much of the first half. The Explorers missed their first 12 shots and were 0-of-2 at the line as well putting up a goose egg in the opening quarter. The Bulldogs' Jacob Williams came out smoking, making a trio of three-pointers in a 75-second span to help spot Stow an 11-0 lead after one. Williams did not score the rest of the way.
The lead was 13-0 before John Zuccaro (eight points, six rebounds) hit on a spinning drive down the lane with 4:26 left in the second quarter. Alex Albright came off the bench to hit a three in the final minutes of the first half to close the gap to 15-7 at intermission.
Beech hit 2-of-4 from the free throw line in the third period for the Bulldogs' lone points of the period. Hudson was just 3-of-10 from the floor in the quarter but five points from reserve guard Kevin Zullo (seven points) helped close to 17-14 after three.
The Explorers outrebounded Stow 16-4 in the second half after being outrebounded 16-9 in the first 16 minutes.
The Bulldogs, who had a 16-9 advantage on the glass in the first half was out-boarded 10-4 in the third and then 6-0 in the fourth period. Hudson ended with a 33-22 advantage on the boards. In the fourth, Brandy (five points) finally shook loose of DeVitis' tenacious coverage to hit his first points with a three with 7:11 left in regulation to close to 19-17.
On the next possession after Brandy's lone bucket of the night, Guadagni scored on a third chance putback with 6:43 to play to bring the Explorers even at 19-19. The sophomore scored a back-door layup a few minutes later for the Explorers first lead (21-19; 4:21 left).
Beech then took his team on his shoulders. The 6-2 junior scored back-to-back buckets inside to reclaim the edge for the Bulldogs.
Boslet, Brandy and Zuccaro took turns making good on six straight foul shots with Brandy's and Zuccaro's free throws coming via the one and one.
The six-point swing had Hudson on the verge of victory with a 27-24 edge. With less than 10 seconds remaining, Beech drove the lane, drew coverage and kicked out to freshman Nathan Bower-Malone (seven points). Bower drilled the game-tying triple from the right corner with four seconds left.
They couldn't get the win in regulation, but Hudson scored the first four points of the first overtime. However, Beech answered back with two drives into the paint, forcing a second overtime.
In the second overtime,Bower-Malone knocked down three free frows down the stretch to tie the score at 37.
"When we got behind early and didn't execute our shots, it forced us to play from behind," Brink said. "It forced us to value each possession and change our shot selection. Our kids did a great job of being patient and working ourselves back into the game. We just kept coming and coming. Our kids kept stepping up to the plate and we slowly worked ourselves back into the game."
Hudson was scheduled to visit Twinsburg Feb. 15. Results were not available at press time.
The Explorers are set to visit Kent Roosevelt Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m.