by Rob Barrone
Hudson -- When it comes to the 2013-14 season, the Hudson boys basketball team certainly has a tough act to follow.
Last season's squad finished 20-5 and captured the Northeast Ohio Conference River Division title.
Fortunately, all still appears to be well for the Explorers. It certainly looked that way after they made their debut.
Hudson earned a convincing 54-39 victory over River Division rival Solon Dec. 6 at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium.
The Explorers also earned a 30-25 win in the junior varsity game and a 37-32 in the freshmen contest.
What made the win even sweeter for Hudson was the fact that the Explorers (1-0, 1-0) were lacking one of their key players.
Junior Mitch Guadagni did not play because of an ankle injury.
But Guadagni's teammates were more than happy to fill the void.
"Top to bottom, it was a good all-around solid effort," Hudson head coach Jeff Brink said.
"You like to start the season like that with three wins, especially playing a league game where they already have played one and we have a late start with football.
"That is tough to overcome, but we responded very well."
With Guadagni still in street clothes, the other three returning letterwinners (Kevin Zullo, Derek Schwarz and co-captain John Zuccaro) needed to step up, along with the Hudson bench.
Everyone did their part despite a slow start by Zullo.
After scoring zero points in the first 16 minutes, Zullo caught fire after halftime to finish with a team-high 12 points.
"Kevin shot the ball about as poorly as you'll ever see him shoot it in the first half," Brink said. "He had good looks, but they just didn't go in.
"We know he is capable of making those. We were adamant about continuing to take the open shots."
While Zullo was struggling to find his range early, the Explorers, who led 30-19 at halftime, picked up the slack with stellar defense and glass play.
Solon scored first as Brendan Jackson, who scored a team-high 12 points, drained the first shot.
Hudson took the lead for good on its first touch with a second-chance three by Zuccaro after an offensive rebound by junior starter Brendan Burdett, who finished with eight rebounds.
The Explorers' defense took over from there.
The Comets (1-1, 0-1) went scoreless for 7 minutes, 30 seconds in the first quarter. The matchup-zone defense forced five Solon turnovers in that span.
While the defense was stopping Solon from getting shots off, the offense had open shots draw lots of iron. But the Explorers attacked the offensive glass en route to a 10-0 run late in the first quarter.
Hudson continued to dominate the first half on defense (eight Comet miscues in the second period) and on the offensive glass. By halftime, the Explorers had eight offensive rebounds and 14 second-chance points. The Comets had just one rebound on their own end and no second-chance points.
"Defensively, we did a phenomenal job in the first half and our rebounding was excellent," Brink said. "We won the battle to the loose balls and our bench played outstanding.
"Kyle Ator made some big plays for us and Jack Sullivan did a nice job for us. Zach Meder also did a nice job in his first varsity action. Brendan Burdett had a really nice game and Ian Laver gave us good minutes."
Zullo drained four three-pointers in the second half. It was the fifth time the senior sharpshooter made at least four triples in a game. Solon trailed 41-27 heading into the final eight minutes.
Senior point guard John Zuccaro had a stellar all-around game with 10 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Schwarz, Hudson's 6-foot-5 senior post, added 10 points.
The Explorers, who had a 36-30 edge on the glass, also took care of the ball. They finished with just eight turnovers, while the Comets committed 18 miscues.
"That is tremendous," Brink said. "We had a lot of kids going from JV ball to 25 minutes at the varsity level -- that's a big jump. It helped having Johnny-Z [Zuccaro], who is always steady as a rock. We still have a long way to go. We have a buzzsaw schedule coming up over the next month. We have to get better week to week, day to day."
With the win, Hudson is now 22-22 all-time against the Comets. The Explorers have won the last six meetings between the two teams.
Hudson also posted a 30-25 win in the junior varsity contest. Isaac McGillis scored 10 of his team-high 11 points in the second quarter for the Explorers.
Hudson was scheduled to visit NOC foe Mayfield Dec. 10. Results were not available at press time.
The Explorers are set to visit River Division rival Stow-Munroe Falls Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m.