By Bob Kopp

Special correspondent

ROCKTON – Legendary Clarion University wrestling coach Bob Bubb, who guided many grapplers to international prominence with Kurt Angle’s Olympic gold and multiple NCAA titles being especially notable, once told me, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight that counts.  It’s the size of the fight in the dog!”

One of the better displays of that maxim occurred on a cold Jan. 14 Wednesday’s winter night as Hononegah hosted the Bucs in a game rescheduled from Jan. 6 due to school closings reminding us why Al Gore should have never been elected President.

Facing a team with distinct height and athletic “thickness” advantages along with a notorious sense of entitlement, the Bucs beat the Indians 53-49 after tying the game with five minutes to go after trailing most of the evening.

While it’s always tough for teams in the NIC-10 to come away with victories when hosted by Boylan, Belvidere North, or Hononegah because of their uncommonly laudable, loyal, and vocal fan support unmatched throughout the conference, the loyal and sometimes loud Bucs fans who made the trip to Rockton were treated to a total team triumph.

Perhaps the most symbolic moments of the challenge facing the Bucs came in the closing minutes as 5’9″ gritty senior Ryan McKnight was called upon to inbounds the ball on several occasions with the game still in doubt while guarded by emerging superstar sophomore 6’7″ Max Miller.  McKnight, epitomizing the rugged determination and strategic excellence of head coach Aaron Pearson and assistants Nate Lister, Bob White, and Brandon Codina, prevailed every time.

More snapshots from the total team effort:

* Senior Colton Bahling scored 9 of his 12 points, including three of the Bucs five 3s, in the first half to keep the Bucs in striking distance.  He also connected on one of two free throws with 35 seconds on the clock.

* Junior Deante Barnes dominated action in the critical fourth quarter as a preview of coming attractions by scoring 11 of his 13 points as the clock winded down.  Emerging as a major force in the NIC-10 as expected, Barnes also hit one of two free throws with 17 seconds remaining.

* Coach Lister’s tutelage of senior Kurtis Dimond continues to pay increasingly huge dividends as he knocked down 12 points and displayed surprising quickness, versatility, hustle, and aggressiveness while emerging as one of the most dominant big men in the NIC-10.  His 6’6″ ceiling accentuated by a wingspan and jumping ability that elevates him above most opponents is high and should attract attention at the next level.  He is a work in progress who is progressing rapidly as the season moves inevitably toward the post-season.

* Senior Alex Hernandez sparkled with his aggressive defense throughout the evening along with his 9 points that included two 3s.  But his biggest moments of the evening came in the last 32 seconds of the game when he sealed the victory by hitting two of two free throws with 23 seconds left and then another two of two with 9 ticks left.  Clutch!!!

* Sophomore Austin Revolinski, as usual, was tough on the boards, had several steals, and added 6 points.

* While senior Ron Paris was surprisingly shut out from the scoring column, his enthusiasm and support of the total team triumph was evident.

* Aside from developing a deep rotation that has overcome injuries, most notably to super senior Tyler Lass who will bring Division 1 talent and toughness to the team if he returns to the court in the post-season, Coach Pearson’s clock management in the fourth quarter was precisely masterful.

Now it’s on to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Shootout hosted by Jefferson High School on Jan. 17-19 before returning to conference action with a trip to Guilford on Jan. 23.

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