Union rallies to lock up playoff berth
Union (63) Vs. Cornell (52)
By Joe Sager
New Castle News

Union High’s boys basketball team knows how to rally.

After starting the season 0-6, the Scotties have played catch-up for a while. Last night was more of the same. The team overcame a third-quarter deficit to post a 63-52 win over Cornell at Mike Covelli Field House in a WPIAL Section 1-A battle.

The victory secured a playoff berth for Union (4-4 section, 8-11 overall) and punctuated the team’s turnaround. The Scotties have gone 8-5 since their winless start.

“It’s great. That was a goal for this team. The way we started the season, 0-6, it’s a tribute to these kids. They could have easily hung it up, but they didn’t,” Union coach Dave Smialowski said. “We kept preaching to them that we were going to be fine and we just need to grow as a team. That’s what we did and these kids have worked hard and I am real proud of them. It’s nice to get that playoff spot now. We don’t have to worry about it next week. We already know we have it. It’s a good feeling.”

Union made the playoffs last season, but with only one returning letterman back in Benjamin Young, the team had to rebuild on the fly to earn a return trip.

“It’s a really good feeling,” said Union junior guard Anthony Rush, who had 17 points. “Last year, we went to the playoffs, but I didn’t play. I was on the bench. But, it’ll be a nice experience to be in a playoff game this year.”

The Scotties can finish no worse than fourth in the section. They are one game behind Western Beaver (5-3, 13-4) for third. However, they hope to increase their seeding for the playoffs in the final week of section play. They visit section ace Lincoln Park (8-0, 18-1) on Tuesday and welcome Rochester (0-8, 3-15) on Friday.

“Lincoln Park will be a tough place to play and we have Rochester here. If we can get to 5-5, Western still has to play OLSH and Lincoln Park, so we could easily tie for third,” Smialowski said. “But, we have to take care of business on our end first.”

The Raiders (1-7, 10-9) were eliminated from postseason contention. They posted an 18-16 lead after the first. Cornell started to pull away late in the second quarter, but Rush hit a pair of 3-pointers to tie the game at 29-all at halftime.

“We just wanted to play good basketball and make good shots. We know Ben is a good player and we tried to get him open to score,” Rush said. “He found the seams and he was driving in and kicking the ball out to us and we hit some open shots.”

Union struggled against the Raiders’ 2-3 zone defense in the third quarter and Cornell regained the lead, 42-38, late in the frame. The Scotties’ Cornell Charles swished a trey, Young added a bucket and Rush dialed up from long distance for a triplicate to give the hosts a 46-42 lead at the buzzer.

“Anthony played a great game,” Smialowski said. “Anthony has been shooting well for us all year. Jake (Jendrysik) had three (3-pointers) in the first half that were down in the hoop, but popped back out. We need those guys to make those shots because it opens up space for Ben and makes it easier to attack the basket.”

The Raiders trimmed the deficit to two points, 48-46, with 5:31 to play, but struggled offensively the rest of the way. Union sealed the win at the free-throw line. The hosts swished 11 of 12 foul shots in the fourth quarter.

“We talk about free-throw shooting and it’s muscle memory and focus,” Smialowski said. “We have been trying to get them more focused in practice. Hopefully, it keeps up.”

Young, who tallied 19 points, went 7 of 8 from the line, while Rush and Jendrysik converted both of their attempts.

“We’ve been getting better at the line as the year has gone on,” Rush said. “It seems like, in the bigger games, we have been hitting them. Hopefully, we can keep this going and get a good seed for the playoffs.”

Cornell’s Dane Jackson led all scorers with 26 points. Jullian Johnson added 10 points for Union.

(Email: ncsports@ncnewsonline.com)
Game Scoreboard
Union 16 13 17 17 0 63
Cornell 18 11 13 10 0 52
Box Scores
Clint Zelkovic 3 0-0 8
Dietrich Lee 1 0-0 2
Brian Ubrey 4 2-2 10
Dane Jackson 9 3-6 26
Kevin Korzen 2 0-0 4
John Yawkorski 1 0-0 2
Totals: 20 5-8 52

UNION (63)
Anthony Rush 6 2-2 17
Jacob Jendrysik 1 3-4 6
Malik Williams 0 0-0 0
Jullian Johnson 4 2-4 10
Benjamin Young 5 8-11 19
Jamie Hooks 3 2-2 8
Garrison Bell 0 0-0 0
Cornell Charles 1 0-0 3
Totals: 20 17-23 63

CORNELL 18 11 13 10 — 52
UNION 16 13 17 17 — 63

3-point goals — Cornell 7 (Jackson 5, Zelkovic 2), Union 6 (Rush 3, Jendrysik 1, Young 1, Charles 1).
There was no JV game.
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