SAEGERTOWN — It’s been a season of ups and downs for the Maplewood boys basketball team.
There was that stretch of three games in mid January where the Tigers seemed to be taking shape, looking strong in each victory.
However, that was followed by a string of five losses for the Tigers.
With the District 10 playoffs currently set to start on Friday, Maplewood head coach Shawn Rhoades was hoping that his team could end that skid and regain its form as the Tigers finished the regular season during a big PENNCREST rivalry game against Saegertown.
Rhoades caught some welcome glimpses of the team that Maplewood could be as the Tigers took care of business at a packed Panthers’ Den, beating Saegertown 69-54 on Tuesday.
“Everybody stepped up,” said Rhoades. “And it’s great that we’re picking up some momentum. You don’t want to head into the playoffs with another loss. Plus Saegertown is a rival. You always want to pick up that win any time. It was crucial.”
With that win, Maplewood finishes the regular season with an overall record of 8-14 and a Region 3 mark of 5-7, which ties the Tigers for fourth place with Union City. However, Rhoades expects Union City to get the region’s fourth seed into the Class 2A playoff bracket, since the Bears have win this season over Class 3A Iroquois, giving them more power points in the District 10 tiebreaker criteria.
Maplewood would be the fifth seed.
“I think we’re going to open up at Wilmington,” Rhoades said. Wilmington appears to be the fourth seed out of Region 2.
As for Saegertown, the Panthers (8-14, 1-11 Region 3) are also heading to the playoffs. They’ll be the seventh seed out of Region 3 and will potentially travel to Region 2 runner-up Lakeview for a first-round game.
“Some people ask why we’re taking them to the playoffs,” said Saegertown head coach Chris Greco. “It’s because we’re young, and these guys need the experience. They need to get a taste of what it takes to play at that level.
“This team shows a lot of flashes. They showed it last week against Youngsville. They showed it in tonight’s game. Now let’s see what they can do in the playoffs and we’ll move on from there.”
Indeed, Saegertown showed some flashes as well last night.
Early on, Maplewood looked like it was going to run away with the game, heading out to an 11-5 lead thanks in large part to a pair of 3-pointers by Jake Brunot.
However, the Panthers responded, winning the second half of the first quarter 10-3, taking a 15-14 lead into the second. Brady Greco was a catalyst for the run, six of the Panthers’ 10 points.
Saegertown extended that lead to 22-17 early in the second period after a jumper by Max Fuller, a steal and a layup by Zach Simcheck, and a trey from the wing by Brady Greco.
“(Saegertown) is going to be tough,” said Rhoades. “If they keep with it, they’re going to a good team. Their guys attack.”
Some sharp shooting from deep kept Maplewood in the game, though. Clay Cox buried a 3 to break up the Panthers’ scoring. And Brunot hit his third to cut it to a two-point game at 22-20.
Suddenly, the Tigers’ offense had new swagger, eventually embarking on a 11-point scoring run and taking a 31-23 lead, capped by a triple from Cox.
The tug-of-war continued to the half, with Maplewood hanging on to a 37-32 lead.
The Tigers then started the third quarter on fire, making their first four buckets, including three from 3-point range, to extend the lead to 48-34. Joel Cox had two and Huston Mattocks had one.
“The guys were hitting 3’s tonight,” said Rhoades.
Saegertown had one counterpunch left. Fuller hit a 3-pointer to end the third quarter. Then the Panthers opened the fourth with eight unanswered points, bringing the Tigers within two possessions at 52-47. Issac Johnson had a key stretch for Saegertown, with two nice drives into the lane for buckets, adding a put-buck for two more points.
However, that was as close as Saegertown would get. Maplewood closed out the game by outscoring the hosts 17-7.
Joel Cox had two huge defensive plays during that stretch, coming away with steals on back-to-back Saegertown possessions, and transitioning them into points at the other end.
Four players finished in double digits for the Tigers — Clay Cox with 19, Brunot with 15, Joel Cox with 14 and Mattocks with 12. Joel added five steals and a block.
For Saegertown, Fuller finished with 18 points while Brady Greco scored 14.