MAPLE HTS. – The message from Highland boys basketball coach Adam Cestaro to his team after a loss to Revere was simple – be aggressive.
The Hornets heard their coach loud and clear.
Hitting the road Tuesday against a big and physical Maple Heights team, Highland pounded the ball inside, held its own on the boards and frustrated the Mustangs shooters in a 70-64 non-league victory.
“We were definitely settling for shooting more threes (Friday against Revere) and tonight we attacked their shot blockers,” said Highland senior Landon Mazzocco, who led the Hornets (10-6) with 19 points and nine rebounds. “The plan coming in was to get on the glass a lot, get to the lane and to the free-throw line.”
Mazzocco had 12 of his points in the first half and was 7-of-10 from the free-throw line in the game. Highland hit 15 of 22 free throws overall, while Maple Heights (10-5) shot just 1-of-9 from the line.
Mazzocco said a slight change in his free-throw form has helped regain an early season groove from the line. “I work on it every day, before, during and after practice,” he said. “I think I’ve got it back now.”
Mustangs leading scorer Fonse Hale had 20 points, but was 3-of-9 from the field in the first half and was hounded all night by Highland. With senior guard Jarrett Smith on the sidelines with a sore ankle – he’s expected to return Friday at Aurora – senior Pete Gmitric stepped into the starting lineup and drew the assignment on Hale.
“Pete really takes pride in his defense, and he was very fired up to get Hale,” Cestaro said. “Tonight he stepped right in for us when we needed it.”
Gmitric finished with 11 points, including a pair of big 3-pointers. After scoring just two first-quarter points and shooting 3-of-19 in the first half against Revere, Highland hit 24-of-51 (47.1 percent) from the field against Maple Heights. Collin Rittman had 18 points and was 5-of-6 at the line, and Ryan Frederick hit four 3-pointers among his 13 points.
“Friday we went away from the shotblockers like (Pete) Nance, but tonight we went right in and got fouled,” said junior guard Jake Rogers, one of the defensive stalwarts who keyed the intensity on that end of the floor. “We were more all up in guys tonight, making them shoot over us. And getting on the glass was huge. We’re not that big so we need to be scrappy.”
“We always try to take pride on the defensive end,” Cestaro said. “They’re a really good team.”
Keyshawn Ford added 18 points for Maple Heights.
Highland roared to a 17-2 lead after the first quarter of the junior varsity game but couldn’t hold the lead, as Maple Heights rallied for a 47-44 win.
Ryan Chema led the Hornets (11-5) with 11 points and Cole Tessena hit a trio of 3-pointers for his nine points.
Highland 70, Maple Heights 64
HIGHLAND 22 11 22 15 – 70
MAPLE HEIGHTS 16 14 15 19 – 64
Highland – Jake Rogers 2-1-5, Pete Gmitric 4-1-11, Landon Mazzocco 6-7-19, Ryan Frederick 4-1-13, Collin Rittman 6-5-18, Alex Jaworski 1-0-2, Bryce Proffitt 1-0-2. TOTALS: 24-15-70.
Maple Heights – Deshawn Garner 3-0-6, Keyshawn Ford 8-1-18, Fonse Hale 8-1-20, RJ Pack 4-0-10, Marcus Kimmie 2-0-5, Hollis Lemons 0-0-0, Dashon Palmer 1-0-3, Javon Pollard 1-0-2. TOTALS: 27-2-64.
3-point goals – Frederick 4, Gmitric 2, Rittman; Hale 3, Ford, Kimmie, Palmer. Rebounds – Highland 35 (Mazzocco 9), Maple Heights 40 (Garner 13). Assists – Highland 13 (Rogers 4), Maple Heights 12 (Hale 5). Records – Highland (10-6), Maple Heights (10-5). Junior varsity – Maple Heights 47, Highland 44.