CLARION – With March Madness just around the corner, Ridgway boys basketball is in an Elite Eight of its own.
Ridgway advanced to the state quarterfinals with a 73-50 victory over Kennedy Catholic Tuesday night in the PIAA Class A boys basketball second round held at Tippin Gym on the campus of Clarion University.
"Survive and advance, that's the old NCAA motto," Ridgway coach Anthony Allegretto said. "We just take it one game at a time and hopefully we can extend this season."
Ridgway (28-1) is slated to play Visionquest (14-10) on Friday night with a site and time to still be officially announced. Visionquest was the third-place finisher out of District 10 this season.
Eric Matheson paced the Elkers with 27 points and nine assists, 21 of those points coming in the second half.
"I thought he started kind of slow, I don't know if he was too pumped up. He handled the ball well and made some nice passes but shooting-wise, he just wasn't shooting the ball properly," Allegretto said. "In the second half, he just took the team and said 'OK, they're going to press us and trap us. Get on my back.' He and Jesse (Reynolds) made some great decisions and then they hit the foul shots. You put the ball in Eric's hands and you're either going to foul him, give him a layup or you're going to give somebody else a layup when you start to chase like they were out front. We just spread the court and let Eric make the decisions."
Ridgway took a 15-10 lead into the second quarter and began to create some distance from the Golden Eagles with a 7-0 run in the second quarter. Kennedy Catholic didn't score in the quarter until there was two minutes left in the second quarter. Matheson opened the quarter with a free throw and then Tony Leithner added a field goal at the 5:13 mark of the quarter before Josh Mitchell would add consecutive field goals to push the lead to 22-10. Mitchell finished with 10 points for Ridgway.
"That elbow jumper's his and that baseline jumper's his," Allegretto said. "The last couple games he's been frustrated because he's missed them. We tell him to keep on shooting. Coach (Mike) Lynch has been working with him every day in practice. We know he can shoot and he has his confidence back. He hit a couple of shots to help extend the lead for us."
Jeff Thompkins would break the Ridgway run for Kennedy Catholic before Jordan Lundin and Mitchell would answer for the Elkers. Mac Hartman closed the half with a field goal with 31 seconds left as Ridgway had a 26-14 entering the locker room. Hartman led Kennedy Catholic with 17 points.
"We know they like to run a lot of sets and they like to run a backcut offense. We thought if we sit back and allow them to do that to us, they're going to get some easy looks," Allegretto said. "They're going to get it to the big guy in the post. As soon as they went into their sets, into their backcut offense, we wanted to attack the ball with ball pressure, get up in the gaps and force some decisions and hopefully get some rotations."
The Elkers made sure the Golden Eagles wouldn't get back into the game as Ridgway opened the second half with a 9-4 run to balloon the lead to 17. After a Hartman field goal, Matheson spun around the Kennedy Catholic defense in transition for a 28-16 lead. Hartman and Matheson would exchange field goals again before the senior point guard would drain a trey with 4:44 left to extend Ridgway's advantage to 33-18. Mitchell and Hartman would alternate field goals before Leithner added another bucket for a 37-20 lead. After past games where teams would get back into the game against Ridgway in the third quarter, Allegretto emphasized the importance of not letting that happen against the Golden Eagles.
"I spent a little time in the locker room mentioning that to them," Allegretto said. "We're not giving this lead up, we're not allowing this to become a game. In the past, Johnsonburg trapped us and we went back to halfcourt. We learned from that and said we can't go to halfcourt, we have to go to the basket. Eric and Jesse attacked the basket and got space for themselves and for some other people."
Thompkins would hit Kennedy Catholic's only 3-pointer of the night as the Golden Eagles were able to keep the lead from increasing but at the same time Kennedy Catholic could only get within 12 by the time the third quarter ended as Ridgway led 44-32.
The 14-point margin would be where the lead would stay for much of the fourth quarter as the teams traded baskets for the first four minutes of the final quarter. At 58-44, Matheson nailed a pair of free throw and another Ridgway hoops put the lead to 62-44. Kennedy Catholic would not get any closer as Ridgway went on to a 73-50 win. The Elkers would score 29 points in the fourth quarter.
Hartman opened the game with a hoop for the Golden Eagles before a Matheson 3-pointer gave the Elkers its first lead. Ken Fill would add a short jumper for Kennedy Catholic before Alex Oknefski would add a free throw and another inside shot for a 6-4 Ridgway lead.
Lamont McPhatter and Matheson exchanged field goals before Jesse Reynolds would add a hoop of his own. A Thompkins basket was answered by a Lundin trey and Lundin would add the final points of the quarter after two free throws from Thompkins. Lundin finished with 11 points.
"I thought Jordan made some nice steals just jumping off of his man," Allegretto said. "He's just very smart at doing that. Tony Leithner came in and gave us some energy, some steals. I thought all the way around, we played strong defense."