ST. MARYS – The gymnasium at Elk County Catholic High School was the place to be on Saturday night and open seats were hard to come by as basketball fans came out to watch the much anticipated match-up between the resilient Crusaders and the undefeated Ridgway Elkers. The two teams did not disappoint as they battled back and forth for the lead throughout the contest until Ridgway finally put the game away in the fourth quarter to secure their first win at ECC since December 2002. On that night, the Elkers only managed to edge the Crusaders 57-55; however, on Saturday Ridgway had a lot more breathing room as they outscored Elk Catholic 21-10 in the final quarter to record a 58-48 win.
"I thought we played really well for the first 21 minutes. In the first half, 10 of their 17 points came off of steals, our turnovers that they turned into points," said ECC coach Aaron Straub. "I thought our defensive effort was really good and, other than giving up the three to [Eric] Matheson to start the second half, I thought we played a really solid four or five minutes. [We were] up 12 and you think that we could do a better job of protecting the ball and handing the ball. Maybe that was the problem, we tried to protect the ball and protect the lead instead of attacking and throwing some diagonal passes and attacking the basket. We certainly turned it over way too many times, and [that is] certainly uncharacteristic for our program and our team. We know what we need to work on."
Ridgway coach Anthony Allegretto attributed the close first three quarters to Elk Catholic's familiarity with his team's playing style.
"We're playing some teams that know us very well. Elk Catholic is a very good team, very skilled, and obviously well-coached, with Aaron the best around. They have us scouted. They know what we do and they worked on breaking the press. They did very well in the first half, and second half we started changing things up a little bit more. It didn't work at first. We were down, I think, 12, and once we caught a little bit of our energy and made some shots and we got back in it," Allegretto said.
"It's hard," Allegretto added. "Both teams played last night (Friday) and so you're losing a little energy on both ends. Once we got that energy in our legs, which we didn't have in the first half, we got the lead and then everybody gets excited. Our crowd gets excited. Everybody really picks up the energy."
Even though Ridgway had the momentum at the end, Straub said he saw the Crusaders as being their own worst enemies in the loss.
"Tonight was a deal where we were our own worst enemies with our turnovers," Straub said. "I think we're going to improve on that. I really look forward to the next opportunity to play Ridgway. I think we're going to be much better at handling the basketball. I think we're going to be much better at handling their pressure and look forward to that challenge."
The Crusaders were led offensively by junior Clayton Housler with 17 points on six twos, a three, and a 2-for-2 night from the foul line. Sophomore Brandon Schlimm added seven points on a two, a three, and a 2-for-6 night from the line.
For the Elkers, senior Eric Matheson recorded 21 points on seven twos, a three, and a 4-for-5 night from the foul line. However, it was Jesse Reynolds who really came through for the Elkers in the third quarter. Trailing ECC 34-22, Reynolds scored nine points in less than two minutes to help tie the game at 34-all with 1:37 remaining in the quarter. He finished the night with 11 points on four twos and a 3-for-5 night from the line.
The Elkers took a four-point lead in the first minute of the game on baskets by Aaron Sorge and Matheson; however, the Crusaders quickly answered with a pair of baskets of their own by Ben Wortman and Housler. Josh Mitchell and Matheson added four more points for Ridgway and Housler recorded another basket for the Crusaders to make the score 8-6 in favor of Ridgway. The Elkers lead could have been bigger at the end of the quarter; however, three trips to the foul line resulted in only one point, making the score 9-6 at the end of the first quarter.
Matheson scored the first basket of the second quarter, extending the Elkers' lead to 11-6. Schlimm and Jordan Lundin traded baskets, as did Wortman and Mitchell, before the Crusaders went on a seven-point run on a pair of baskets by Mitchell Vallone, a basket by Housler and a foul shot by Schlimm to take the lead for the first time with the score 18-15 with 2:03 left in the half. Lundin would add a pair of foul shots for the Elkers and Schlimm made a basket with under a minute remaining to send the game into halftime with the Crusaders on top 20-17.
Matheson hit a three to tie things up at 20-all right off the bat in the third period; however, for the next four minutes the momentum was all the Crusaders'. Housler started things off with a three, Mitchell added a bucket for Ridgway, and then ECC went on a 12-point run on a three by Hank Cappiello, a three and two by Housler, and buckets by Brock McCullough and Wortman to take a 34-22 lead. Then the momentum suddenly shifted to the Elkers as Reynolds led their furious rally to stay in contention. With the score tied at 34-all, Capiello made a basket for ECC, Matheson added a basket and a foul shot to give the Elkers back the lead, and Housler scored a bucket as the quarter ended to give Elk Catholic a narrow 38-37 lead headed into the final quarter of play.
The fourth quarter started as a back-and-forth effort. Mitchell scored a bucket to give Ridgway back the lead; however, this was short-lived as Vallone added a basket to give the lead back to the Crusaders. Reynolds took the lead back for Ridgway with a basket, but then ECC again took it back after a basket by McCullough. Ridgway then took the lead for good as they went on a 10-point run to take a 51-44 lead with 3:39 left in the game. ECC was unable to stage a rally of their own. Housler added two foul shots, but Matheson responded with a basket and foul shot of his own. Schlimm made a foul shot, Oknefski added a bucket, and Devin Constable had the final points for the Crusaders with a three with 1:30 left. The game ended with a pair of foul shots by Matheson to give the Elkers the 58-48 win.
Elk Catholic is now 5-4 on the season and will be back in action on Tuesday when they travel to Punxsutawney to take on the Chucks. Junior varsity action is schedule to begin at 6 p.m., with varsity to follow at 7:30 p.m.
Ridgway remains undefeated with an 8-0 record. The Elkers will be back in action on Tuesday when they travel to Sheffield to take on the Wolverines, with junior varsity at 6 p.m. and varsity at 7:30 p.m.
The Elk County Catholic junior varsity squad fell to the Elkers 41-33 in the preliminary contest.
Ridgway jumped out to a 14-5 first-period lead; however, the Crusaders got back into the game in the second quarter by adding eight points while limiting the Elkers to two to head into halftime with Ridgway on top 16-13.
In the third period, Ridgway added to their lead by outscoring ECC 16-10 to extend their advantage to 32-23. ECC outscored Ridgway 10-9 in the fourth quarter; however, the Elkers came away with the 41-33 win.
ECC scoring: Vincent Jacob 8, Colton Lecker 5, Ivan Wortman 7, Luke Kraus 0, Ben Reuscher 0, Andy Gebauer 0, Taylor Feronti 5, Nick Werner 0, Corey Huff 8.
Ridgway scoring: Josh Roselli 9, Joe Horning 4, Luke Bobby 8, Ben MacDonald 2, Joe Jaques 2, Sam Roselli 8, Robbie Byrd 8.