Bulldogs suffer gut-wrenching loss to Irish

Boys basketball

By: Mike Molaro
   One of the key aspects of a successful team in any sport is how well it bounces back from adversity.
   For the Hopewell Valley Central High School boys basketball squad, that test came in the form of Tuesday’s gut-wrenching 50-49 overtime loss at Colonial Valley Conference opponent Notre Dame.
   The Bulldogs (5-3 overall, 2-2 in the CVC) led 19-16 at halftime, lost a four-point advantage late in the fourth quarter, and used junior guard Jeff Molinelli’s clutch 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime tied at 43.
   Molinelli (16.4 average) topped the Bulldogs with 23 points, while junior center Brendan Rutledge (15.4 average) added 18.
   "This was a tough loss," HoVal coach Tony Mormile said after his guys had their four-game winning streak snapped. "This was a well-played game by both teams. We need to put this game behind us, learn from it and improve from it."
   The Irish took the lead with a run to open the second half, but the Bulldogs battled back and held a 40-36 with 2:11 left. Notre Dame then went on a 7-0 blitz to set up Molinelli’s heroics.
   "We didn’t take care of the ball down the stretch," Mormile said. "That’s something we need to work on. There had to be about 15-20 lead changes in this game."
   After the Irish hit a free throw to take a 50-49 lead with 14 seconds remaining in overtime, HoVal set up a play designed for Molinelli to drive the middle of the lane. When Notre Dame closed the lane, Molinelli kicked the ball out to Aksel Gungor, who had a good look for a 3-pointer. Unfortunately, the junior guard’s shot fell just short and HoVal’s four-game winning streak was history.
   "It doesn’t get much tougher than this," Mormile said. "We did everything against Notre Dame except come away with a win. There are good lessons to be learned from this loss.
   "We need to take care of the ball, and we need to get the ball into Brendan’s (Rutledge’s) hands. He’s a dominating player, and we need to get him the ball."
   With Gungor scoring a season-high 17 points and Rutledge contributing 15, the Bulldogs on the road last Friday edged West Windsor-Plainsboro South 52-51. Gungor was 5-for-5 from two-point range, 1-for-1 from three-point range, and hit four of his five free throws.
   "This was another game where we had a lead late in the game and couldn’t hold it," Mormile said. "South came back and almost won the game."
   After the Bulldogs missed a shot and South took possession under its basket with 13 seconds left in regulation, Gungor came up with HoVal’s biggest defensive play of the season by stealing the ball. He connected on 1-of-2 free throws to tie the score at 51-51.
   South missed an opportunity to take the lead and fouled Molinelli, who sank 1-of-2 foul shots with 1.5 seconds remaining to provide the winning point. South missed a full-court shot at the buzzer, and the Bulldogs had their fourth straight win.
   "We knew both games would be tough," Mormile said. "Both opponents were good. We didn’t manage a lead at the end of either game. We need to work on this. Both games were on the road, and it’s tough to play games like these on the road.
   "I couldn’t be more pleased with my team. We battled back both games and never gave up."
   Things don’t get easier for the Bulldogs, as they continue their road journey at Steinert on Friday and at Moorestown on Saturday.
   "We know what we need to work on," Mormile said. "Our team showed a lot of heart in the games against South and Notre Dame. I feel very confident we’ll bounce back from the ND loss and be a better team for it."
   The test has been given. Now it’s time to see how well the Bulldogs grade.
• NOTE: The site for next Tuesday’s game against Lawrence won’t be determined until later this week.