AURORA — Facing a hungry boys basketball team, Highland needed all of its tricks to stay in first place in the Suburban League American Conference.
Medina County’s leading scorer made sure the Hornets stayed on top.
Senior Collin Rittman scored 20 of his game-high 26 points in the second half, including a three-point play with 1:51 left to break a tie and give Highland the lead for good in a 73-65 victory Friday at Aurora.
The win put Highland (11-6, 7-2) alone at the top, ahead of Revere (10-5, 7-3) and Tallmadge (11-4, 6-3) after the Blue Devils lost to Copley (9-5, 5-3).
Highland has three conference games remaining — home against Copley then at Tallmadge and Barberton (8-8, 5-4).
“Being a senior, being a three-year varsity starter, it’s my role to step up,” Rittman said.
Rittman scored 10 points in the first three minutes of the second half to help the Hornets grab a 47-40 lead, but Aurora (5-11, 2-7) countered with a 10-0 run and led 50-48 after three quarters.
The Greenmen drilled 11-of-18 3-pointers (61 percent) on the night and led 64-61 with 3:54 to play before Highland closed with a 12-1 run.
“We’re going to get everyone’s best in every game from here on out,” Highland coach Adam Cestaro said. “You expect nothing less if you’re the first-place team.”
Highland pushed the tempo all night, with Rittman and senior Landon Mazzocco (19 points, 10 rebounds,) the recipients of much of the efforts. Mazzocco had seven assists to lead Highland and Rittman added four — most of them to each other either in transition or on backdoor cuts coming off screens.
“Me and Landon have been playing together since the third grade, so we’ve always worked so well together,” Rittman said. “He’s such a good passer from the post.”
Mazzocco hit a pair of free throws with 3:31 left to tie the game at 64, and Rittman followed with a drive to the hoop that came up short, but he picked up his own rebound, made the putback and was fouled. Rittman hit the free throw, then sealed the game with a fastbreak layup and a foul with 29 seconds to go.
“We’re at our best when we’re running up and down the court,” Rittman said. “We work well when we don’t set up, we just go.”
Senior Jarrett Smith, who sat out Tuesday’s win over Maple Heights with an ankle injury, was back in the lineup and scored 13 points.
Aurora got a big night from big man James Robinson. Averaging 20.4 points over his previous five games, the senior had a team-high 19 points and eight rebounds. Cade Huffman had nine points, nine rebounds and six assists before fouling out, while Justin Gentile added 14 points.
“You’re going to have nights when the team shoots the ball well against you,” Cestaro said. “We have to keep playing our game, make it as hard as we can for them, stay persistent and not panic.”
Aurora rallied from a 10-point deficit to force overtime in the junior varsity game, but Tommy Williams (15 points) hit 5-of-6 free throws in OT as the Hornets won 63-57.
Contact Chris Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Highland 73, Aurora 65
HIGHLAND 11 21 16 25 — 73
AURORA 15 18 17 15 — 65
Highland — Collin Rittman 10-6-26, Ryan Frederick 2-1-7, Landon Mazzocco 8-3-19, Jarrett Smith 5-2-13, Jake Rogers 2-0-4, Pete Gmitric 0-2-2, Alex Jaworski 1-0-2. TOTALS: 28-14-73.
Aurora — Justin Gentile 5-0-14, Trevor Sobol 1-1-4, LeMeir Smith 3-2-8, James Robinson 6-4-19, Cade Huffman 2-4-9, Gabriel Elsawy 3-0-8, Leonard Feckner 1-1-3, Lucas Miller 0-0-0, Ryan Brubaker 0-0-0. TOTALS: 21-12-65.
3-point goals — Frederick 2, Smith, Gentile 4, Robinson 3, Elsawy 2, Sobol, Huffman. Rebounds — Highland 29 (Mazzocco 10), Aurora 30 (Huffman 9). Assists — Highland 12 (Mazzocco 7), Aurora 15 (Huffman 6). Records — Highland (11-6, 7-2), Aurora (5-11, 2-7). Junior varsity — Highland 63, Aurora 57 (OT).