CLARION – Ridgway is one win from a district championship.
The Elkers' most familiar foe awaits them on Saturday.
Ridgway advanced to the District 9 Class A boys basketball championship game against Johnsonburg with a 57-40 victory over Clarion-Limestone Wednesday night at Tippin Gym on the campus of Clarion University.
The championship game is scheduled for around 8 p.m. Saturday night at Tippin Gym. Ridgway holds a 3-1 series advantage over the Rams this season.
"The reason you're playing them five times is you're meeting them for championships," Ridgway coach Anthony Allegretto said. "(The) Elk County Championship, AML Championship and now the District 9 championship. We'll just keep battling, we both know each other. We know what we're going to do with each other. We'll hopefully get the lead at the right time and hope things work out."
Allegretto said a goal at the start of the season was to play in Saturday's championship game.
"That was a goal for this year, to get into this game and win it. Last year, we had a lot of wins but we didn't have any championships," Allegretto said. "We're hoping that we can come here and battle on Saturday and see where the chips fall."
After boasting a 32-22 advantage at halftime, Ridgway put the game away in the third quarter with a 14-4 run. Josh Mitchell opened the game with a basket for the Elkers before R.J. Laugand and Tyler Stitt answered for the Lions to pull Clarion-Limestone within eight at 34-26. It would be the Lions' last field goal until the final moments of the quarter.
Sam Roselli put back a missed shot for the Elkers which followed with two straight field goals from Eric Matheson to extend the lead to 40-26. Matheson led all scorers with 28 points.
"Eric's a leader out there," Allegretto said. "I thought Jesse did a great job offensively and I thought Aaron Sorge did a great job defensively. I thought Sam Roselli came in, who hasn't really played a whole lot for us, but we needed the size there and I thought he went in and battled."
Aaron Sorge, Mitchell and Jesse Reynolds added baskets to balloon the Elker lead to 46-26 near the end of the third quarter. A late trey from Clarion-Limestone pulled the Lions within 17 but it would be too little, too late as the Elkers would not be seriously threatened in the final eight minutes.
Clarion-Limestone started well and scored six of the first eight points. Billy Kelley opened the scoring with a field goal at the 6:45 mark before Reynolds answered with a field goal of his own. Laugand added a field goal and senior forward Adam Mellott put back a missed shot to push Clarion-Limestone ahead 6-2.
"All year long, we kind of have that feeling-out period where maybe we're losing 6-3, 6-4," Allegretto said. "All of a sudden, they figure out where we need to trap. They got a couple in the frontcourt against the sideline. We got the runouts and the easy layups. That picked up the energy and once we get going, it's really hard to stop. We had a nice little run there and we had another in the beginning of the third quarter."
Matheson and Jordan Lundin sandwiched 3-pointers around a Tyler Stitt hoop for the Lions to tie the game at 8-all at the midway point of the first quarter.
Ridgway then scored the next eight points. Reynolds drove down the open lane to put Ridgway ahead then Sorge set up Matheson with a crisp pass to extend the lead to four. Ridgway's defense then wreaked havoc as Matheson scored a layup on transition, then stole the ball in the backcourt and went in for an uncontested layup. Clarion-Limestone had 12 turnovers in the first half, Ridgway had six.
"We want to play tough, full-court defense," Allegretto said. "We don't want you to set up because you're probably bigger than us. When we do get in the halfcourt, we're going to play hard-nosed on the ball, try to get some of the gaps, make you put on the floor. Where we've had the trouble is with the big guys rebounding or with some penetration. They did a great job with the full-court press. We were very patient in the half-court offense."
The Lions recovered as Stitt would score a 3-point play and then added another hoop as Clarion-Limestone trailed 16-13 after the first quarter.
Mellott would start the second quarter with a basket to crawl the Lions within one.
Stitt and Mellott were Clarion-Limestone's two main forces inside which helped Clarion-Limestone to a 14-6 rebounding advantage in the first half. For the game, the Lions held a slim 23-21 advantage on the glass.
"The first half we got beat pretty bad in the rebounding, the second half we held our own," Allegretto said.
Ridgway then responded with a 10-3 run to push the lead into double digits. A Matheson trey and a Mitchell basket had the lead at six. After three points from the Lions, a Lundin 3-pointer and two more baskets from Matheson, including another defensive steal and score, had the Elkers up 28-18 with 2:34 left in the half. Stitt and Laugand would push the Lions within six before Reynolds and Matheson would answer before the half as Ridgway held a 32-22 lead at halftime. Reynolds complemented Matheson with 12 points.
NOTES: Ridgway's last district championship was in 1991-1992 in Class AA as the Elkers won 59-48 over Keystone, that was also the last time the Elkers were in a district championship game. Johnsonburg last won the district championship in the 1982-1983 season with an 80-66 victory over Karns City. The Rams were in the district title game last in the 2008-2009 season with a 47-36 loss to Elk County Catholic.