Head coach Brian Fantone had a much-awaited exhale of relief after his Woodridge boys basketball finally hit the win column in a 57-48 league win over Garrettsville Garfield.
The defending Portage Trail Conference County Division champion Bulldogs won its first game of the year on the road on Dec. 21 thanks to a some unheralded heroes in senior Hunter Niswander and junior John Harry.
"It was nice to get that one off of our backs -- now we can look to 2013 and we are ready to go," said Fantone. "We desperately needed that win and what made it nice was our defense and play off of the bench."
Niswander and Harry were the surprising heroes in the spirited win at Garfield (2-5 overall, 2-2 in the PTC) that raised Woodridge to 1-5 overall and to 1-3 in league action.
At the urging of assistant coaches John Godinsky and Perry Owens, Fantone inserted Niswander and Harry in the second half and they came up big.
The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Niswander, who is headed to Northwestern for football, hasn't played since his sophomore season. He scored seven points and snagged five rebounds in the fourth quarter, plus he buried his first-ever 3-pointer.
Most importantly, Niswander converted 4-of-4 free throws in the final three minutes to help secure the win.
"Hunter hustled and made his free throws and really gave us energy out there," said Fantone, who had 10 players score.
Harry, a veteran guard of the junior varsity team, played the entire fourth quarter. He was also a bundle of energy with four steals, plus he secured two loose 50-50 balls, and played great defense. He also sank two free throws.
"That was the most John had played and he was huge for us on defense," said Fantone, who had some athletes in foul trouble.
"It's a credit to my coaches -- they suggested bringing in both players to give us some fresh legs. They were great."
Senior point guard Nelson Perry had an outstanding game for the Bulldogs with 16 points.
"Nelson is so athletic and fast, and I think maybe he had been playing too fast at times," explained Fantone. "Nelson did a great job and just slowed down a bit. He was fundamentally strong."
Chico Coleman, a senior forward-guard, scored eight points in one of his better offensive games of the year.
Another big contributor was senior guard Nick Barracato, who added five points and canned a 3-pointer.
Woodridge has a long break and don't play until Jan. 4 in a league game at Rootstown (0-6, 0-3). The Bulldogs play a PTC game at East Canton (1-5, 1-3) on Jan. 8, and host Waterloo (1-5, 1-3) on Jan. 11.