CONNORVILLE - Even as losses have piled up for Bellaire, rookie coach J.R. Battista has always been highly complimentary of the effort his players have put forth.
Thursday night the Big Reds' effort paid off for the first time since early December as Bellaire snapped a 12-game losing streak and got its first Buckeye 8 victory by holding off a furious Buckeye Local rally for a 71-68 conquest.
''I can't tell you how badly this team, the school and I needed this win,'' Battista said. ''Everyone associated with Bellaire needed it, but it's only one win. We hope to have more wins. It might not be this year or next year, but we hope to get back to where we were.''
While the Big Reds went home quickly, it was another setback for the reeling Panthers, who've dropped five of their last six and are 7-8.
''I've been telling the kids that basketball is a game of confidence, but right now we're lacking that,'' second-year coach Jay Morris said. ''We're the same team that we were when we were 6-3, but we can't take things for granted.''
The Big Reds wasted little time in setting the tone for the game, grabbing a 23-6 lead after one quarter. They raced out to the lead as they continually handled the Panthers' attempted pressure and turned it into converted layups.
''They just took it to us (in the first quarter),'' Morris lamented. ''Basically, we only played three quarters of basketball. They got easy buckets because we weren't guarding anyone.''
The Big Reds cashed in 10 field goals in the first quarter and very few were made outside of a couple feet from the rim, which was a pleasant sight for Battista.
''We did a good job of making shots, and I don't mean difficult shots,'' Battista said. ''We made 3-footers, shots where you drive in the lane and score. We work on those every day and the kids probably thought I was nuts because we work on them so often.''
The Panthers began to chip away in the second quarter, outscoring the Big Reds, 22-17 thanks to senior big man Greg Ring, who scored 14 of his game-high 27 in the second. Included was a trey and a trio of conventional three-point plays.
Buckeye clawed within eight, 54-46, after three despite Bellaire senior Derek Feller filling it up for 10 of his 18 in the third.
Each time it appeared as if the Panthers appeared they were set to begin a run to take control of the game, the Big Reds had the answer.
After a Feller bucket in the middle of the fourth, the Big Reds were poised to put the game on ice, going up 65-56, but the Panthers had other ideas.
A Shane Duncan basket got Buckeye within five at 65-60, but senior Manny Ray, who came up big time and time again, drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing, pushing the lead back to eight.
Working hard on the offensive glass, John Rozenek kept the Panthers close with an inside score. As Battista was screaming for a timeout, Bellaire turned the ball over, which led to a Ring bucket, making it a 68-64 reading with a little less than two minutes to play.
Bellaire helped keep Buckeye Local's hopes alive by continually clanging free throws. In the fourth, the Big Reds were 8 of 15, but in a stretch missed six in a row.
''I had a lot of deja vu going through my mind,'' Battista said with a smile. ''Hey! We played hard, and so did Buckeye Local.''
Brennan Czuchran connected on a driving bucket and after another missed Big Reds free throw, they committed a foul as Buckeye was shooting a 3 with 6.5 seconds showing. The Panthers connected on 2 of 3 and quickly fouled senior Sha'Heim Price, who knocked down both freebies for the three-point cushion.
''We've been trying a little bit of everything to get this turned around,'' Morris said. ''The thing is, we've had good practices, no one's dogging it or back-biting anyone, so we just have to keep working.;;
Buckeye Local raced the ball down the floor and got a good look at a potential game-tying shot, but it came up short.
Ray and Feller's production was complemented by 11 from sophomore Nick Patrone and eight from Price.
Rozenek and Czuchran added nine and eight points, respectively for the Panthers.