BRISTOLVILLE - After struggling in the first half of their home opener, the Bristol Panthers went into halftime with little reason to be happy.
Against its heated rival Maplewood in the "Battle for the Paddle" game, Bristol committed 13 turnovers, went 5 of 23 from the field and struggled from the free-throw line, going 50 percent. Despite all this and being down eight points, a couple of Panthers tried to keep the faith in the locker room.
"It was depressing," senior Johnny Simcox said. "Everyone came in with their heads down. A couple of the seniors - myself, Brandon Lee - stepped up and talked about what we needed to do, and we came out in the second half strong and ready to go."
That renewed confidence did the trick, as the Panthers completed the comeback for a 50-47 win over the Rockets at Bristol High School. For Bristol coach Craig Giesy, it was all about sticking to the team's philosophy and having a few player stepping into the void left by District Player of the Year Chad Oliver.
"We just stuck with the gameplan, and the players made plays," Giesy said. "Obviously, we lost two key players of our team last year, and we've been wondering who's going to step into what role. In that second half, I think we seen some of that.
"We're not even close to where we want to be, but we're happy with the win against a very good team."
One of those players was Simcox.
The 5-foot-10 guard helped spark a 16-5 run to open the second half that erased Maplewood's lead. He hit a big 3-pointer at the 6:49 mark that got the home crowd back into it and finished it with a putback bucket at the 2:14 mark to give Bristol a 34-31 lead. Then, in the fourth quarter, Simcox added six more points, including a fast-break layup with 6 seconds remaining to make it, 50-47.
Simcox accrued 11 of his team-high 14 points in the second half.
"He's grown tremendously," Giesy said. "I can't ask enough from Johnny Simcox, and it started in practice. He doesn't take a play off in practice. He's working hard from the get-go, and obviously, it translated onto the court tonight. He made some big plays for us."
Although Bristol looked in control for much of the second half, the Rockets (1-1) had many chances down the stretch to escape with a win, but they struggled with Bristol's high-pressure defense. Maplewood committed six turnovers in the final three-and-a-half minutes, including one with 20 seconds remaining as the Rockets trailed by one and had a chance to take the lead.
Maplewood also had a chance to tie with 5 seconds remaining, but a three-quarter shot attempted right off the inbound pass hit an overhead light and turned the ball over to the Panthers.
"They got every loose ball, they got offensive rebounds, we didn't get offensive rebounds and that reflects on me as a coach," Maplewood coach Nathan Kish said. "We try to do competitive drills every day for these guys to compete, to be in shape physically, to be able to think mentally when you're tired and we just didn't do that.
"That's what that press does. That press wears you down, and the only way you're going to win is to mentally stay in the game, and we didn't do it."
For the Panthers, they get to keep the "Paddle" for the second year of its existence and started out the season the way they wanted.
"We'd been looking forward to this game ever since the schedules came out," Simcox said. "Maplewood's our rival - it's nice to beat them and keep the paddle. Our No. 1 focus was to open up, go all out and win."