Anthony Rocchio isn't going to go down in the annals of Bellaire basketball history as one of its greatest to hit the hardwood.
Friday night in the All-American town, Rocchio only scored five points and didn't hit his first shot until there were less than 3 minutes to play.
But it was his last, with 3 seconds to play off a Devin Ward miss, that sent the Bellaire faithful into a full-on frenzy.
Bellaire vs. Buckeye Local
Rocchio's putback gave Bellaire a 72-70 victory, allowing the Big Reds to stay undefeated and ending the hopes of a game Buckeye Local team thirsting for its first victory.
''I have two words ... Anthony Rocchio,'' Ammirante began as his team improved to 9-0. ''He refuses to quit, refuses to let up.
''He makes every attempt to follow the line and make every one his teammates better.
''We've had a lot better basketball players here, but none with the heart and competitiveness of Anthony Rocchio.''
More than his game-winner, it was Rocchio's attitude and will to win that lead his teammates to victory.
Down by 10 with less than 4 minutes remaining, some of his teammates looked ready to pack it in. Heads were hung low and there was a lot of heavy breathing.
While Buckeye freely substituted through 12 players, keeping fresh legs on the court, Bellaire was down a few reserves and played with only its starting five minus some spot duty by Shaheim Price in the first half.
Devin Ward free throws and a 3-pointer from Derek Feller began to chip away at the lead and with 2:50 remaining, Rocchio canned a trey from the wing to knot the score at 66-66.
Buckeye's Brandon Borkoski twice hit putbacks to put his team atop by two, the final one bringing the tally to 70-68.
Ward tied the score after knifing through the lane for the last of his 28 points.
A critical Panthers' turnover gave Bellaire the ball back with 40 ticks left. Ward brought the ball across the timeline and passed back and forth with Rocchio, holding for the final shot. He came up short but the rebound was tipped around and fell into Rocchio's capable hands for the putback.
''The basketball gods are smiling down on us,'' Ammirante said. ''Anthony picked us up out of a hole.''
It was a disappointing loss for the Panthers in a game they had very much in hand late at one point.
Not used to being in that situation this season, Buckeye forced a shot or two and had a few errant passes assist Bellaire in its comeback.
''We had some turnovers and they came back to bite us,'' said Greg Ring, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. ''We needed to slow down. We tried to push the ball too much and had some turnovers and they were able to come back.''
Ward finished with a game-high 28 points for Bellaire, but was relatively quiet in the second half.
Not lost in the celebration were the efforts from Manny Ray and Josh Tolliver.
Ray hit his first six shots and finished 8 of 10 for 17 points. Tolliver also had 17 points and added 18 rebounds. At the half, the Panthers had 13 rebounds. Tolliver had 12.
''Our game plan was to keep Tolliver off the boards because he can jump through the roof,'' Ring said. ''We did a better job on him in the second half, but he still managed to grab some key rebounds late.''
Justin Isinghood led a balanced Buckeye effort with 17 points, aided by 11 from Borkoski and 10 apiece from Ring and Shane Duncan.
The Panthers didn't play like a winless team, hitting key shots and coming up with stops in crucial situations.
It also didn't help that Bellaire seemed to be playing half-speed defensively at various junctures throughout the game.
''Your defense is so affected by your offense and some of our guys haven't leaned that when your offense isn't going, you still need to be able to defend,'' Ammirante said.
The Panthers captured the junior varsity contest, racing past the Reds 59-27.
BUCKEYE LOCAL (70) - Agnew 1 0-0 2; Czuchran 1 0-0 2; Isinghood 5 7-10 17; Mains 4 0-1 9; Richardson 2 0-0 4; Duncan 5 0-0 10; Brown 0 0-0 0; Rozenek 1 0-0 2; Michalo 1 0-0 3; Borkoski 5 1-2 11; Ring 4 2-2 10; Totals: 29-64 10-15 70. BELLAIRE (72) - Ward 9 8-12 28; Ray 8 1-2 17; Rocchio 1 0-1 5; Feller 1 0-0 3; Tolliver 8 1-2 17; Price 1 0-0 2; Totals: 28-57 10-17 72.
Three-point Goals: Mains, Michalo; Ward 2, Feller, Rocchio.
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