Rockets are getting cage mojo

Dennis Grall | Daily Press Noah Olson (23) of Rapid River battles Jacob Pederson (30) and Gavin Johnson (5) for a rebound Thursday at Rapid River.

RAPID RIVER — It’s just shy of a month since Rapid River won the eight-player Division 2 football state championship, so it is understandable to see the boys basketball team is not quite in the groove yet.

The Rockets showed that again here Thursday, with spurts of playing well and struggling, but they managed to survive for a 59-50 victory over Crystal Falls Forest Park, another school with a history of late starts due to football playoff success.

Rapid River coach Rich Poma agreed there has been some carryover from the delayed start to the basketball season, which included postponing the opening two games. He also said it is obvious some players are getting frustrated as they struggle to adjust.

“We showed we are not ready (for basketball) last week,” he said of a season-opening four-game losing skid that ended with two wins this week.

Those consecutive wins can be just what the Rockets needed. “This gives us a good head of steam and a little confidence,” he said. “The spirits rise up.”

The Trojans tried their best to dash those rising spirits as they refused to crumble when it would have been easy to do. Rapid River led 34-21 at halftime thanks to a closing 11-3 burst into the break.

The Rockets then opened the second half with back-to-back triples by Tyler Sundling and Braydon Moss for a decisive 40-21 cushion, but Rapid River went frigid for four minutes and 27 seconds as Forest Park ran off 10 straight points.

Moss stemmed that comeback with a critical 3-point basket from the right wing with 2:09 left in the third quarter to ignite an 8-0 run.

Forest Park again rallied with a 14-2 flurry to draw within 50-45 midway through the final frame, but the Rockets prevailed down the stretch.

“It was just a learning experience,” Poma said of inserting three subs in the fourth quarter to see how they would perform and how his team would respond. “I wanted to see who was going to step up for us,” he said. “It is a testament to how we can close a game.”

Forest Park opened in a 2-1-2 zone defense and the Rockets used a patient approach to work the ball around to find good looks. Rapid River used man-to-man defense and the Trojans pounded the ball inside for the majority of their points.

“Rich’s crew did a good job jumping on us,” said Forest Park coach Chris Nocerini.

He said FP’s speed and rebounding were key factors in getting back into contention. “Our defense has come a long way since our first game.”

Mark Nylund and Riley Hendrickson also sparked the Trojans, scoring 19 and 13 points respectively.

Nocerini said the duo “brings us energy and brings us back” at halftime. Poma said “they are really good players.”

The Rockets, who had turnover issues when they beat Bark River-Harris Monday, only had seven turnovers Thursday, much of that because the Trojans did not employ full-court pressure. “I’m happy we took care of the ball. By far that was our best of the season,” Poma said.

Sundling led the Rockets with 17 points and Sam Orth was a big presence inside with 12 points. The Rockets hit 24-of-58 field goals while Forest Park (2-3 overall, 2-2 league) made 19-of-48 shots. The Rockets can find their hardwood groove because they are idle until Dec. 28 at Mid Peninsula.

The Rapid River jayvees won 59-28.

Forest Park 12 9 12 17 – 50

Rapid River 16 18 14 11 – 59

Forest Park – Emmers 5, Hendrickson 13, Nylund 19, Showers 1, Peltoma 12. FT: 7-12; F: 11; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals – Hendrickson 3, Emmers 1, Nylund 1.

Rapid River – Sundling 17, Moss 11, Lundquist 8, Sefcik 2, Olson 3, Micheau 6, Orth 12. FT: 4-9; F: 11; Fouiled out: None; 3-point field goals – Sundling 2, Moss 3, Micheau 2.