by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
North Royalton -- With the postseason roughly two weeks away, the Hudson boys basketball team started preparing for the upcoming second season.
The Explorers certainly got a good test Feb. 11 on the road.
Despite a stellar effort, Hudson fell just short as it suffered a 58-48 defeat to a talented North Royalton squad in a Northeast Ohio Conference showdown.
The Explorers fell to 8-9 on the season. The Bears improved to 17-1.
"This was the type of game that prepares you for the tournament," head coach Jeff Brink said. "We were looking to shorten the game possession by possession. That's tournament basketball.
"We didn't finish in those situations, but our halfcourt execution was pretty solid all night. The kids played hard."
After sitting on the ball at the end of each of the first three quarters,
Hudson got the shots it wanted but was unable to convert.
On the flip side, North Royalton wasn't converting either.
Despite not getting points in the final minutes of those periods the strategy kept the Bears from scoring as well. Hudson stayed within striking distance.
The Explorers were down 14-13 after the first quarter, 29-25 at halftime and 38-35 heading into the final eight minutes.
Staying close on the Bears' court was a feat in itself, but they also did it with a first-time starter in the middle.
That first-time starter had to guard 6-foot-8 Omari Spellman, who finished with 13 of his 15 points in the second half.
Hudson sophomore Isaac McGillis, a 6-6 center, was pressed into his first meaningful minutes on the varsity.
Starting in the place of injured 6-5 senior Derek Schwarz. McGillis scored six of the Explorers' first 15 points and had a team-high five rebounds on the night.
"We were desperate for size with Derek's bruised hand keeping him out," Brink said. "With the defense I was putting in against Omari, we had to have a big inside and Isaac was the next guy on our depth chart.
"We expected him to come in and perform and he did just that. He gave us a strong effort.
"We have had to have guys step up and it was Isaac. Mitch [Guadagni] also came through again.
"He is having a great season for us."
Guadagni matched his career high with 15 points.
He scored 11 points in the first half and made 7 of 9 shots from the floor.
"They [the Bears] are a good team," Guadagni said. "Our effort was amazing. We played one of our best games of the year.
"I'm just mad we didn't get the win. Isaac played a heck of game against a D-1 [Division I] basketball player [Spellman]. He played his heart out."
McGillis and Guadagni weren't the only Explorers who had performances.
John Zuccaro made two 3-pointers and had a season-high six assists.
Kevin Zullo hit three triples for nine points, Brendan Burdett had a three and five points and Chris Koscho had five points, including a big three-point bucket in the fourth quarter.
As a team, Hudson made 20 of 42 shots and finished with a season-low seven turnovers.
Unfortunately for the Explorers, the Bears also were efficient.
They turned the ball over just eight times and outrebounded Hudson 27-13. North Royalton made 20 of 40 shots, including 10 3-pointers.
The Bears also converted all eight of their free throw attempts.
Hudson did not shoot a single foul shot as North Royalton was whistled for just two fouls all night.
The Bears did not commit a single foul in the second half.
"We knew we could reduce Omari Spellman's impact but to do that, we would have to give up 3s," Brink said. "We said if they make their 3s, we were going to be in a tough position and they did.
"In the second half, we cheated a bit more to the 3s and he [Spellman] hit a couple buckets.
"It was kind of pick your poison."
Hudson trailed by just five (40-35) early in the fourth quarter when Zuccaro hit his second triple to make it a two-point game with 7 minutes, 17 seconds left.
After a trey by North Royalton's Henry Meinberg (10 points), Koscho and Bears' senior Nick Woods then traded huge buckets.
First they traded two-pointers and with 5:11 to play, Koscho hit a trey to cut the deficit to 45-43, but Woods countered with a 3 19 seconds later and the upset bid began to fade.
The Bears' 6-of-6 effort at the line in the final 51.2 seconds, all in one-and-one situations, iced the win.
Woods led all scorers with 15 points. He drained five 3-pointers.
The Explorers were scheduled to visit NOC River Division rival Cuyahoga Falls Feb. 14. Results were not available at press time.
Hudson is set to entertain Kent Roosevelt Feb. 18 at Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium. Varsity game time is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.