Berne Union weathered a storm of 3-pointers and a strong third quarter from Grove City Christian on Monday to earn a 58-54 non-league win on their home court.
"We hung in there together and trusted each other to make a play, that's what teams' do," Rockets coach Tracy Blevins said. "You don't always win pretty, sometimes you have to gut them out. Tonight we gutted it out."
With the Rockets playing a 3-2 zone and the Eagles lacking a player to match the height of 6-foot-9 sophomore Hunter Martin, Grove City Christian appeared happy to shoot from the outside. GCC (1-1, 1-0) connected on 7 of 14 first-half attempts from behind the arc, but went just 2 of 7 from 3-point range after intermission.
The Rockets (2-1, 0-1) relied on Martin's offense and the team's ability to get to the free-throw line. Martin finished with a team-high 20 points as Berne Union shot 29 free-throws in a physical contest.
Martin was particularly important in the first quarter as he was the only Berne Union player to score from the field until a Jordan Blevins' layup with less than a minute remaining. Martin scored eight in the quarter, and the Rockets drew eight fouls on the Eagles en route to a 15-11 lead after one.
Berne Union lead by as many as eight in the second quarter but took just a four-point lead into halftime, in large part because of GCC's Derek Vaughn. The senior connected on 5 of 7 3-pointers before intermission. Vaughn had 19 points at the half, and finished with a game-high 30.
"It was unbelievable," Blevins said.
"I knew this kid could flat out shoot it. You've got to give (Vaughn) all the credit in the world. He took what we gave him, he was patient, and he made us pay for it."
Seven Rockets -- including all five starters -- scored, and Martin was joined in double figures by Nate Zody, who had 12 points to go along with his 10 rebounds. The senior said he benefited from a rough contest, scoring six of his points from the line.
"It was one of the most physical games we will play all year, but I love physical games," he said. "Our team held their composure really well tonight."
The Eagles began the third quarter on a 7-2 run and outscored the Rockets 15-10 during that period to take a 43-42 lead into the fourth.
Martin committed his third foul with a little more than a minute left in the third and did not return until there was 6:34 remaining in the game.
"Whenever Hunter goes out, everybody steps up," Zody said.
"We pull together as a team and hold off as long as we can and then we get big Hunter Martin back in there."
The Rockets were able to outscore the Eagles 8-4 with their leading scorer on the bench, building a 48-44 lead for his return. The Eagles fought back to a 49-48 deficit but never lead in the final quarter.
GCC had the ball down five points with less than 2 minutes remaining when Martin blocked a layup attempt that lead to an intentional foul on a Jon Sanborn drive.
The Rockets' senior hit both free throws and, although GCC would continue to send Rockets to the line to extend the game, they were not able to mount a comeback.
"I got a pilot friend of mine that says, 'Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing,'" Blevins said. "And any win you can walk away from is a good win."
The Rockets will take as many safe landings as they can get.