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Rockets get a date for the district dance

February 03, 2005|by TIM KOELBLE

koelble@herald-mail.com

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Way, way back in mid-November when practice began for the hoops season, an array of youth greeted James Buchanan boys coach Larry Strawoet.

With only three seniors, several juniors and sophomores were on hand as the Rockets began another charge forward, hoping to cast away the gloom and doom of not reaching the PIAA postseason party.

All of that frustration came to a head Wednesday night when the Rockets burst the Boiling Springs Bubblers 63-46, thus clinching a spot in the District 3 tournament for the first time since the 1999-2000 campaign. The Rockets will be one of a number of qualifying Class AAA teams that begin play Feb. 11.

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"It was our goal at the beginning of the year to reach the playoffs," Strawoet said. "It's what we wanted to do and we felt we could do it."

Despite clinching a spot, Strawoet wants to keep his troops tuned for Friday, when the Rockets draw fire at Camp Hill.

"We want to go there and do the job and keep our seed position and get a home game in the first round," Strawoet said.

It was an all-sophomore cast in the opening quarter as guard Dion Lehman had six points and Shane Rife and Dan Czuprynski each had four as the Rockets held a 14-10 lead after eight minutes. Five of the baskets came in the paint.

The Rockets (12-10) took command in the second quarter with a 15-7 advantage as junior Josh Pickens scored six points and Lehman added four in building their 12-point margin.

Strawoet called two timeouts in the third period when JB appeared to have lost an edge of intensity, each time preaching to his players to "play to win."

Following the second break, senior Matt Heckman hit a bucket and Czuprynski hit two free throws to stretch the JB margin back to 40-29 after three quarters.

The Rockets, with the 6-foot-5 Rife leading the parade, went to the free throw line and hit 15 of 24 in the final eight minutes. Rife made six of his eight free throws, many coming off fouls from the five offensive rebounds he had in the quarter.

"We preach that we are not a team of individuals, that we can pick one another up," Strawoet said. "This is a group of guys that work hard and have a sense of being a team."

Heckman, one of the three seniors honored before the game along with Czuprynski and Jason Stoner, missed five games in the latter part of the schedule and returned last Friday from a herniated disc.

"I didn't think I contributed much tonight, but I'm glad to be back," he said. "Making the playoffs was a goal and we thought we could because we are team-oriented."

Rife was a terror on the boards with 19 rebounds as the Rockets held a 40-32 advantage. All 17 of his points were in the paint and as a team, JB hit 20 of its 22 baskets from inside 10 feet. Lehman added 15 points and Pickens added nine rebounds.

The Rockets hit 50 percent from two-point range (22 of 44) while the Bubblers, who were led by A. J. Korzun's 14 points, hit 16 of 55.

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