ST. MARYS – Saturday's AML championship between two of the top three seeds in the upcoming District 9 playoffs lived up to the billing, coming down to the last shot.
At the end, the No. 1 seed in the upcoming district playoffs had the AML championship and a third win over a county rival this season.
Ridgway (23-1) won the AML boys championship, 49-46 in overtime over Johnsonburg Saturday night at St. Marys Area High School, the Elkers' third win over the Rams in four tries this season.
"It feels great, the kids are excited," Ridgway coach Anthony Allegretto said. "That game, either team could've won it. It was a game of streaks. We started off hot and they finished the half hot. They started the second half hot, then we got back into it. It was a lot of fun, knowing you're sitting there not feeling elimination. Even when we were losing, I just took it in and said 'With a crowd like this and the kids playing like this, two teams going hard, I thought at that point with anything that happened, it's great for basketball, great for the area.'"
Johnsonburg (20-4) had a shot to force a second overtime session at the end of the game. Ridgway went to the free throw line up 48-46 with 2.6 seconds left. Jordan Lundin sank the first but missed the second. Mitchell Holmberg raced up the court as Johnsonburg was out of timeouts. Holmberg unleashed a shot from beyond halfcourt which looked be on target but fell short.
"I thought in a game like this, I wouldn't be surprised if it would've have gone in," Allegretto said. "That's the way these two teams play right now. I congratulate the Johnsonburg kids and coach Shuey. There's a good possibility that somewhere down the line, either districts or if we both make it to states, we could meet again. It's been four this year and four last year, that's a lot."
In the overtime, Lundin opened the scoring with a 2-pointer 35 seconds in for a 45-43 lead. Michael Shuey would answer with a hoop at the 2:23 mark of overtime to knot the game at 45.
After the teams alternated turnovers, Aaron Sorge drew a foul and forced a 1-and-1. He made the front end but missed the second shot but Lundin was able to corral the offensive rebound. Johnsonburg was able to get a steal and two free throws but the Rams missed both opportunities at the foul line. The Rams were just 4-for-10 from the foul line while Ridgway was 8-for-10. Johnsonburg's foul shooting Saturday was a contrast from the 12-for-12 performance from the line Friday in the AML semifinal against DuBois Central Catholic.
"They got a couple plays at the end," Johnsonburg coach Bill Shuey said. We missed some foul shots, turned the ball over. I thought it was a well-played game from both teams. We had a slow start and our boys didn't panic and got back into it."
Eric Matheson converted two free throws with 42.5 seconds left to extend the lead to three at 48-45. Matheson had 18 points to lead the Elkers. The Rams were looking to hold the ball for a 3-pointer to tie the game. Cameron Grumley attempted a 3-pointer which fell short and a second one which was blocked out of bounds.
"We didn't show a lot of poise in the overtime," coach Shuey said.
Up three, the Elkers fouled Cole Peterson with four seconds left. Peterson hit the first and intentionally missed the second, Ridgway grabbed the rebound to set up the game's final moments. Allegretto said the strategy to foul was an easy call, even though he said he hasn't had to demonstrate it.
"I never really had the chance that I can remember," Allegretto said. "I've always said when I watch those games on TV that I would take my chances on them missing the foul shot and trying to get the rebound especially with a few seconds left. There was no discussion with it."
The Elkers held the ball for the final 1:53 of regulation after Johnsonburg was called for a traveling violation. Ridgway called a pair of timeouts in the final 30 seconds and the Rams used its two team fouls to give to disrupt Ridgway's timing. With 4.1 seconds left, Ridgway inbounded from the side and got the ball into Josh Mitchell but the junior's shot went off the iron and out, forcing overtime.
"It was a bad place to have the ball inbounds. I thought the kids made the right choice," Allegretto said. "Josh had a turnaround that from my angle, had a chance to go in. I'll take that look anytime. I knew they were going to try and foul us so I knew we weren't going to have it."
Ridgway opened the game with a 10-2 run and an 18-8 lead after the first quarter. Grumley opened the game with a field goal two minutes in to put the Rams on the board but Jesse Reynolds would quickly swing the advantage with a 3-pointer. Sorge added a field goal and Matheson would score the next five points for the 10-2 lead.
Peterson and Quinn Luhr would cut the Elkers' lead to four at 10-6 with consecutive hoops but a Sorge trey off an inbounds pass and a transition bucket by Reynolds put the lead back to nine. A Grumley hoop was followed by a Matheson three as the Elkers held the 10-point lead after eight minutes.
Ridgway's shooting grew colder in the second quarter as Johnsonburg began to chip away at the lead. Grumley started the scoring with a field goal but was answered by one from Mitchell on a second-chance play. A Grumley free throw was complemented by a Holmberg 3-pointer as Johnsonburg trailed 20-14 with 5:40 left. The teams alternated field goals to 24-18 before Johnsonburg took the momentum into the half with a Luhr field goal and an NBA-range 3-pointer from Grumley, the last shot of the half. Johnsonburg outscored Ridgway 15-6 in the second quarter to pull within one at 24-23. Grumley led the Rams with 16 points.
"I thought our man defense was pretty effective," coach Shuey said. "They were shooting lights out against our zone."
The Rams stormed out of the locker room and overtook the Elkers on a tipin by Shuey on the initial possession of the third quarter. Shuey had 10 for the Rams. After alternating field goals, Shuey, Grumley and Holmberg would score the next six points for Johnsonburg as the Rams built a 33-26 with 3:39 left in the third quarter. Lundin and Matheson quickly cut the margin to three with consecutive hoops for Ridgway. After the teams traded buckets, Luhr would convert the front end of a 3-point play for a 37-32 Johnsonburg lead with 16 seconds left. Ridgway then got a 3-pointer from an unlikely source as Tony Leithner drained a corner trey with one second left to pull Ridgway within two entering the fourth quarter. It was Leithner's first 3-pointer of the season.
Mitchell then tied the game at 37-all early in the fourth quarter. Grumley then provided a coast-to-coast layup with a strong behind-the-back dribble to create room in the lane for a 2-point Johnsonburg lead.
Ridgway would add the next six points to take a 43-39 lead. Matheson tied the game in transition for Ridgway and Mitchell added a shot from the post. A Reynolds hoops pushed the margin to four.
Grumley would added a hoop near the halfway point of the fourth quarter and Peterson would score off a steal from Grumley to tie the game at 43.
Ridgway will host the winner of the Sheffield/Venango Catholic first-round matchup in the quarterfinals of the District 9 Class A playoffs on Friday night at 7 p.m.
Johnsonburg will host the winner of the Coudersport/A-C Valley first-round game in the quarterfinals, also set for 7 p.m. Friday.
NOTES: Ridgway's only loss is to Johnsonburg while three of Johnsonburg's four losses are to Ridgway. Johnsonburg also has a loss to Brookville.