Picker boys back on winning track; ready for road trip

Photo by Roger Coda Jimmy Bailey of North East attempts to slip the ball around the long reach of 6-9 Josh Chojnacki of Mercyhurst Prep.

Fresh from its first win in more than 10 days, North East looks to strengthen its annual bid to reach the playoffs when it hosts Union City on Friday night. A four-game road trip that begins next week won’t end until Feb. 16.

The Grapepickers improved their league record to 6-4 with a 67-43 win over Iroquois Tuesday night. North East jumped ahead early with a 19-8 advantage in the first quarter, and then followed with a 14-8 spread in the second frame to produce a commanding 33-16 lead at the half.

North East won the third and fourth frames, 16-13 and 18-14, respectively.

“It’s almost been two weeks since I was able to thank them winning, so it feels pretty good,” North East coach Tom Pyle said Tuesday night. North East needs to approach every game as if it’s a playoff game – with a sense of urgency – in order to be successful, Pyle said.

 “At times we play great, and then we seem to get into a mindset that, with a comfortable lead, we can take it easy, and as soon as we do that, the other team comes back,” he said. “We’ll have to continue to work on it.”

Jimmy Bailey and Jordan Kitchen paced North East with 15 and 14 points, respectively. Kitchen led the team with seven rebounds; Tyler Williams and Spencer Cornelius each collected five. Jacob Stiles dished out 10 assists.

The North East JV squad also won, 44-22.

Last Thursday, Mercyhurst Prep thwarted a North East comeback attempt midway through the third quarter on its way to a 64-50 win that handed the Grapepickers an uncharacteristic third loss in a row.

Down 14-12 after the first period, the Pickers used precision shooting from outside the arc — including Sean Bogart’s 3-pointer that knotted the score at 18 early in the second period — to keep the score close. But the Lakers then promptly seized the upper hand, burning the nets with 12-0 run that was finally sapped by a Jacob Stiles basket.

When the half expired, Mercyhurst Prep used a 20-10 advantage in the second frame to claim an overall 34-22 advantage.

A pair of foul shots by North East’s Spencer Cornelius sliced the deficit to eight, 46-38, with about 2:30 left to play in the third quarter, but Mercyhurst Prep put the last five points on the board to finish the period with a slight 17-16 edge that produced a 51-38 spread. Josh Chojnacki, the Lakers’ versatile 6-9 center, scored 11 of his game-high 26 points in the third frame.

North East finished the game on the short side of a 13-12 tally in the fourth quarter.

Top scorers for North East were Stiles and Bogart, both with 12. Bogart had four of North East’s eight 3-point buckets. The Pickers converted 2-of-4 shots from the line.

Hitting double figures, in addition to Chojnacki for Mercyhurst Prep, was Dan Defelice, with 10. The Lakers hit six 3-point shots and cashed in 8-of-12 foul shots.

The loss dropped North East to 5-4 in the league, 7-6 overall, while Mercyhurst Prep hiked its record to 9-0 in the league, 12-2 overall. The Lakers beat North East, 57-49, in the first half of the season.

The North East JV squad won its game, 49-34.

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