Quick start fuels Union Local past Bellaire, 64-41

MORRISTOWN — The philosophy of “Next Up” worked pretty well for the Union Local boys’ basketball team Tuesday night.

With its two leading scorers from last season having graduated, the players with the most returning experience had no trouble filling the void as the Jets raced past Bellaire, 64-41, in a mutual season opener inside “The Hangar.”

Luke Merritt canned four 3s en route to a game-high 20 points and hunter McCort added 12 as UL jumped out to a 10-0 lead and never looked back in spoiling the return to the sideline of Big Reds head coach J.R. Battista.

“I was really happy with our effort,” Union Local head coach Zach Delman said. “We came out trying to prove something.”

Really, Delman noted, it was the players who wanted to show that even without the likes of Cal Kildow and Elijah Baker, the Jets could still be formidable.

“These guys have been in the program a while,” Delman said of players like Merritt and McCort. “They just buy into the system and they come to work every day. When the other guys graduate, it’s their turn to step in. I thought they did a great job.”

A few weeks ago, Delman was unsure of what his lineup might look like. Against the Big Reds, though, he went with a nine-player rotation, for the most part, and all contributed in some form or fashion. Whether it be scoring, defense, or just pure hustle, every Jet that hit the floor gave something.

“Early in the season, offense can, sometimes, be difficult,” he said. “One thing we always talk about is, whether or not the ball is going in, you can always bring your defense. That’s one thing we’re going to have to bring every night.”

And that proved key early as the Jets built a 17-5 lead after one quarter against a Bellaire squad green in many areas.

“We’re playing a lot of young kids,” Battista acknowledged. “For some, it’s the first time they’ve played a varsity game, and there’s a lot of nerves you can see out there.

“But, that’s an excuse. Union Local played well. Their pressure bothered us. They made shots.”

Merritt drained three straight 3s midway through the second as UL went ahead 28-15.

“He started slow,” Delman said. ‘But, he shot the ball well in the second half.”

It’s true.

After David Zwack, who paced the Big Reds with 17 points, hit a pair of free throws bringing the Big Reds to within 11, Merritt answered with a 3 which stretched the lead to 38-24. That bucket sparked a 12-2 run that ended the quarter with UL up 50-28.

“I think with this group, we can do a little mixture of everything,” Delman said. “On any given night we can get hot from the outside or be a team that can attack the basket.”

Tuesday, the Jets did all those things.

“Their pressure and their defense took us out of a lot of what we wanted to do,” Battista said. “Our nerves and poor decisions compounded it.

“We were getting to within striking distance but, to their credit, they made plays and stretched (the lead) out.”

Cade Latham added 11 points for the Jets and drew praise from Delman for his job running the point.

“He did a nice job breaking people down off the dribble and finding open shooters to jump start things,” he said. ‘It’s fun to see the offense and defense go hand-in-hand.”

Trenton Wilson added 10 points for Bellaire, which welcomes Harrison Central on Friday.

Union Local travels to Martins Ferry, also Friday.