By Chris Chaney
In sports, injuries are a part of the game; the only thing you can hope for is that they aren’t serious and don’t come at inopportune times.
For the Clermont Northeastern Rockets, the injury bug bit them at a time that will prove to be detrimental to their overall record, but could be a blessing in disguise as the team readies itself for a stretch run through the Southern Buckeye Conference.
“We’ve been battling some injuries,” head coach Jason Iles said. “We’ve had a couple of players go down, so we’re trying to piece it together and go game by game and go from there.”
After starting the season off a bit sluggishly, the Rockets played well when it mattered most, taking three of five games from their SBC National rivals and positioning themselves in the hunt for a shot at a league title run.
Currently sitting in third place, the Rockets are one game back of second-place Williamsburg and two games back of front-runners Georgetown, both of whom beat CNE in their first meetings.
While Georgetown has been impressive this season (12-1, 5-0) and may be tough to catch, second-place Williamsburg edged the Rockets by just two points in their first meeting.
CNE won their other three conference tilts against Felicity-Franklin, Blanchester and Batavia by an average of 13 points.
However, injuries have set back the Rockets through the heart of their schedule as they were only able to muster one win in their last seven games.
“We’ve struggled through the middle part of the season due to injuries and we haven’t been able to put the basketball in the bucket like we should be,” Iles explained. “Our field goal percentage is down from where it was a year ago.”
Part of the reason for the skid has been the absence of two of the Rockets’ key contributors who have been out for an extended period of time with injuries.
“We’ve had two seniors go down who were both starters, Patrick Cornett and Chad Dorsey,” Iles said. “Chad Dorsey was our leading rebounder and went down and has missed a couple of games. He’s still not 100-percent.
“Patrick Cornett was our four-man (power forward). He played a lot of physical minutes and got a lot of rebounds. He was kind of like the garbage man and played a major role in our press defense creating a lot of deflections and turnovers.”
The loss of the two senior leaders has hurt the Rockets underneath the basket as well as getting their offense from their defense.
“That’s where we get our points. We get our points off of our defense,” Iles said. “We’ve been unable to press as much because we’re only playing six or seven guys and we’re getting tired. Since we’re unable to press, we can’t get points off of our defense.”
Being the motivator and optimist that he is, Iles is still confident that his squad can get things back on track with guys coming back from injuries. The Rockets have five games left on their regular season schedule, all conference matchups, and CNE hopes to make a run, if not at a conference title, at least to gain some momentum going into the postseason.
“It’s not how we start, it’s how we finish and the second time through the conference, we should be able to compete,” Iles said. “We went 3-2 the first time through and look to go 4-1 or 5-0 the second time. We’ve seen everybody and we know that we can play and compete with everyone, we just need to go out there and prove it.”
Iles is banking on some leadership from his veteran guys down the stretch and he hopes that the four seniors on the team can propel the Rockets to a strong finish.
“I had a good long talk with our seniors and they know what it means to go out a winner,” Iles said. “We’re looking forward to this second stretch. We’ve played each and every team and we’ve been in each game, regardless of what the score might indicate. I’ve stressed to my team that you’ve got to play a dollar’s worth. Sometimes we find ourselves playing a quarter here, or a quarter there and this team, much like last season’s team, will be ready and prepared to make that successful tournament run and finish out the season.”