JOHNSONBURG – The third time is the charm in Johnsonburg.
The Rams (15-3) avenged two losses earlier in the season to previously undefeated Ridgway (18-1) Tuesday night with a 53-41 win in the Paper City.
Although Ridgway senior Eric Matheson led all scorers with 20 points on the night, the visiting Elkers were unable to stop the triple threat of Johnsonburg sophomores Cameron Grumley and Cole Peterson, and senior Mitchell Holmberg.
Grumley and Peterson finished with 17 and 16 points, respectively, while Holmberg put in 15 for the game.
Johnsonburg started off with an early 6-0 lead with two consecutive layups from Grumley and one from Holmberg. Matheson got things started with a 3-pointer at the 5:37 mark of the first quarter to get the visitors on the board but after Grumley and Ridgway senior Jordan Lundin traded layups near the halfway point of the first quarter, the Rams made a run.
After Peterson hit one of two free throw tries for a 9-5 lead, the Elkers turned the ball over twice, both times leading to Peterson scores. The sophomore first hit a jumper with 3:45 on the clock and after a Ridgway turnover, Peterson again delivered, this time for a 3-pointer and 14-5 lead with 2:37 showing in the first quarter.
Ridgway momentarily regrouped as Lundin was fouled on a layup. He missed the free throw try, leaving the score at 14-7. Peterson would nail a long-range shot from just inside the 3-point line and Johnsonburg senior Kyle Sheldon followed with a similar shot to up the lead to 18-7. Matheson tried to restore order down the stretch with a layup to cut the lead to 18-9 and after a Johnsonburg turnover, a Lundin 3-pointer was off the mark.
However, the key run of the game came in the second quarter as the Rams took a commanding 31-9 lead. Grumley started the quarter with two free throws for a 20-9 lead before Holmberg took center stage for the next four possessions. Holmberg first hit a 3-pointer with 6:34 to go in the first half and later came back with a jumper, prompting Ridgway head boys varsity basketball coach Anthony Allegretto to burn a timeout with 5:56 on the clock.
The interruption did little to deter Holmberg's streak as he tossed in another 3-pointer with 4:55 to play. After another Ridgway miss on the other end, Holmberg put in a layup with 4:32 remaining until halftime for a 30-9 lead. After the Rams came up with a turnover, Grumley was fouled under the basket and hit one free throw for a 31-9 advantage.
"We shot the ball well to start the first half and we were hot," said Johnsonburg head boys varsity basketball coach Bill Shuey following the win. "We were lucky to build a lead because Ridgway is a good team. They nearly got our 19-point lead to 10 points at one time."
A 3-pointer from Ridgway junior Jesse Reynolds cut the lead to 31-12 and after a jumper from Grumley, Matheson closed out the first half with a jumper with 17 seconds on the clock. The Rams took a 33-14 lead to the locker room.
"I told them at halftime that it's not insurmountable, we've been here before, we were down by 19 at the half last year," coach Allegretto said. "We know we keep playing and we know we're going to keep with the program, and we know it works.
"I challenged my guys to go out there and play as hard as they've ever played to get back into the game. We made it a little bit of a game, we just couldn't get it back in there close enough."
Ridgway senior Aaron Sorge started the third quarter with a jumper to cut the lead to 33-16 and the hot Holmberg later headed to the bench after his third foul of the game.
After Lundin hit a layup at the 6:20 mark, Ridgway came up with a steal and took a timeout facing a 15-point deficit.
However, the Elkers' shots continued to miss and the Rams got back-to-back field goals from Peterson to take a 37-18 lead. Ridgway would get baskets from juniors Josh Mitchell and Tony Leithner, the latter coming after Leithner swiped the ball from the Rams and cruised in for an easy layup to extend the lead to 37-22.
On the other end, Johnsonburg junior Quinn Luhr put in an easy layup with 1:40 on the clock for a 17-point lead. However, the clutch Matheson came through again as time dwindled, first with a 3-pointer at the 1:30 mark to cut the lead to 39-25, then again as he completed a 3-point play after being fouled on a successful layup down the stretch. The 6-point spurt cut the lead to 39-28.
However, Ridgway was unable to shut down the Rams before the third quarter closed as Grumley got inside for a layup with two seconds on the clock to stop the momentum and take a 41-28 lead into the fourth quarter.
Ridgway spent all night near the perimeter and had difficulty penetrating Johnsonburg's zone defense. The Elkers instead had to rely on their jump shots but some were off the mark.
"It's hard to get inside up against a zone defense but when you take away penetration you have to make shots against it," coach Allegretto said. "I was very happy with the way we attacked it and you have to be patient-- problem is, when you fall behind by 20 points, it's hard to be patient and take a minute off the clock to get what you want.
"Either way, I was happy with how we attacked the zone, not on the first four possessions when we had turnovers and I don't know if it was the zone as much as it was us just doing dumb things with the basketball."
Reynolds and Grumley traded layups in the fourth quarter as the Rams held a 13-point lead. After Peterson nailed two free throws, Reynolds answered on the other end with a 3-pointer to trim the lead down to 12 points.
Missed layups marred Johnsonburg throughout the second half as Ridgway stuck around but the Rams were able to regroup down the stretch.
"In the second half, I think we missed some layups that could've easily put this game out of reach sooner than it was," coach Shuey said. "It's the adrenaline flowing, the youth, just the whole atmosphere."
Shuey hit a layup with 2:59 remaining to take a 47-33 lead and despite another Matheson 3-pointer with 2:37 on the clock, the Rams controlled the clock down the stretch for the win.
Grumley and Matheson traded a free throw apiece to 48-37 with 90 seconds left in the game; Grumley later followed with two free throws for a 50-37 lead. The sophomore would later add another shot from the line before Peterson was the recipient of a home run pass under the basket for an easy layup after an Elker miss on the other end. That shot gave the Rams a 53-37 lead. Matheson would close out the game with an NBA-length 3-pointer with 36 seconds on the clock and Lundin was fouled after a steal but made only one free throw as the Rams took the game, 53-41.
The teams are more than familiar with each other.
The Elkers took the holiday tournament Dec. 30, 2011, with a 45-38 win in St. Marys; it was Allegretto's first Elk County Holiday Basketball Tournament crown. The Rams tried to avenge their first loss of the season with a rematch Jan. 20 in Ridgway. Despite having the last possession and facing a 1-point deficit, the Rams were unable to break through and left Ridgway with a 39-38 loss. But Tuesday night was all Johnsonburg.
"Any time you beat a good team, it's a boost for our confidence level," coach Shuey said. "Starting out the season, we had some young players, a sophomore point guard but as we get to this point in the season, the maturity levels not just individually but as a team have risen-- it's at a point now where we can compete with some elite teams and win some of these games.
"In the past, we were losing the close games."
After starting the season at 18-0, a loss is an unwelcome occurrence in Ridgway.
"I hope they learn that they don't like to lose," coach Allegretto said. "Remember the feeling, we don't like to lose. We knew Johnsonburg was a good team and that doesn't surprise us.
"It comes down to whoever makes shots and takes care of the ball. At the beginning of the game, we didn't take care of the ball and Johnsonburg made the shots."
Already playing each other three times thus far this season, postseason scenarios dictate that the two schools will meet again very soon.
With Ridgway already clinching the Allegheny Mountain League South Division and Johnsonburg toppling the North, the two teams could play each other for the AML crown, and possibly beyond that with district and state playoffs in the forecast.
"It's pretty easy to play a team three or four times in a season if they're no good but this is a good Johnsonburg team and coach [Bill] Shuey has them playing at a high level," coach Allegretto said. "They shot lights out in the first half and they almost buried us there-- I guess really they did bury us but we dug out a little bit and made it a ball game.
"With just a couple more shots at the end we're right there to get it under 10 points. I felt that if we had gotten it to 10 points with three or four minutes left, we have something going but we just couldn't get over the hump."
The Elkers look to regroup tonight as they host Kane. Meanwhile, the Rams will look to extend their winning streak to seven games as they travel tonight to DuBois Central Catholic.