CLARION – Ridgway boys basketball had its best season in school history end Tuesday night.
But for the Elkers and the area, what a ride it was.
Ridgway lost 65-46 to Lincoln Park Charter in the PIAA Class A State Semifinal Tuesday night at Tippin Gym on the campus of Clarion University.
Ridgway finishes with a 29-2 record and the team will have the distinction of its farthest advancement in the state playoffs. It's a long way from a 3-18 record in the 2008-2009 season when Eric Matheson and Jordan Lundin were freshmen on the team.
"I told the kids, 'Thanks for taking me on the ride too,'" Ridgway coach Anthony Allegretto said. "A lot of the people that I know said 'Thanks for the ride.' I was on the ride also. The kids took me with them also."
Ridgway also was the last public school remaining in the state's Final Four teams. Although Allegretto said he didn't agree with the rules about having charter schools in Class A, he said the Elkers competed well.
"I don't like the rules, I don't think it's fair but what are you going to do? Those are the rules that are out there," Allegretto said. "Lincoln Park's a nice team, well-coached. You take the size difference away, I'll take my team any day."
Two critical scoring droughts ultimately pushed Lincoln Park into the state championship game which will be against Constitution, the District 12 champion. That is Friday at 2 p.m. at Bryce Jordan Center in State College.
A Josh Mitchell basket for Ridgway put the Elkers within two at 12-10 with three minutes left in the first quarter. Lincoln Park then went on an 11-2 run to close out the quarter. Devontae Watson opened with a basket for Lincoln Park and Jaylyn Cottrill answered with one of his own. After two free throws from Lundin for Ridgway, Trey Hosack added consecutive field goals and Antonio Kellem closed out the quarter with a corner trey to push the Leopard lead to 23-12 at the end of the first quarter. Allegretto said he was well aware of Lincoln Park's prowess from beyond the arc. The Leopards finished with five 3-pointers.
"We knew they were going to make them, they have some shooters," Allegretto said. "I think we got intimidated with their size and shooting the elbow jumper, the short jumper. We just didn't make enough of those and we can make that shot."
Ridgway was even with Lincoln Park in the second quarter as each team scored 10 points in the period. Matheson opened the quarter with a basket before Kellem drained another 3-pointer for the Leopards. Lundin added a basket and Jesse Reynolds converted a free throw. Ryan Skovranko and Hosack added five straight points as the Leopards led 31-17 with 3:29 left before halftime. Matheson added a field goal and free throw to cut the margin to 11 at 31-20 before the teams alternated field goals into halftime with Ridgway still in the ballgame, trailing 33-22.
After a Lincoln Park field goal to open the third quarter, Reynolds drained a 3-pointer, a hoop which would turn out to be the Elkers' only points of the third quarter. Ridgway then went the next six minutes without scoring as Lincoln Park went on an 18-0 run which essentially sealed the game. B.J. Lipke, Kellem and Watson all added field goals for the Leopards, a Skovranko field goal prompted a Ridgway timeout as the Lincoln Park lead grew to 20 at 45-25 with 1:17 left in the quarter. At the third quarter media timeout, Lincoln Park led 39-25.
"We had shots, we came out with energy, we had a couple turnovers there," Allegretto said. "We just couldn't hit that jump shot, couldn't hit that open three. We had it at 14 with three and a half minutes left. I thought if we could come out after the media timeout and get a bucket or two, keep it to 12 or 14 going into the fourth, we got a shot at that. They ran it out to 19 real quick, with some missed shots and runouts."
Skovranko punctuated the quarter for the Leopards with a dunk with 12 seconds left in the quarter as the Leopards took a 24-point lead into the final quarter. Allegretto said those two scoring droughts were crucial and noted Ridgway again had a third quarter where the Elkers struggled.
"We're an energy team and sometimes we miss some shots because our legs are a little tired at that point," Allegretto said. "I told them in the locker room to not flatline and we flatlined twice."
Allegretto said the presence of Watson, a 6-foot 10-inches tall center who has committed to Temple, was a difference.
"It wasn't so much the size as much as the pressure," Allegretto said. "After a while, we were able to run our offense. We knew there were open shots because they were pressuring the ball and giving us driving lanes. That's their plan because they have 6-foot-10 in there. They want us to shoot it quick and we played right into their hands in the first half. The second half, we were more patient but we couldn't make a shot."
Ridgway was able to chip away at the lead at the latter stages of the game but could not get back into contention. Senior Tyler Stark had a basket for Ridgway down the stretch and senior Kyle Kinkead was able to sink a corner 3-pointer for the game's final points.
"It was great to see Kinky hit a three at the end of the game," Allegretto said. "Everybody loves him, he's a great kid. He works with the guys, he's right there but doesn't get the playing time. It's nice to see."
Watson and Aaron Sorge of Ridgway opened the game with field goals before a Skovranko trey and a Kellem basket put Lincoln Park up 7-2 in the early going. Mitchell and Reynolds would answer with field goals for Ridgway to cut the margin to one before a Kellem 3-pointer. Matheson and Skovranko would alternate field goals before another Mitchell basket made the score 12-10.
Matheson led the Elkers with 14 points. He also finishes as the school's all-time leading scorer.
Ridgway's seniors are Eric Matheson, Aaron Sorge, Alex Oknefski, Jordan Lundin, Keith Zawatski, Kyle Kinkead and Tyler Stark.
"They've done so much, especially the guys that came to the open gyms, the guys that came to weightlifting, the guys that did the running the last couple years," Allegretto said. "They got great leadership from Jordan and Eric who played for me for four years. They're going to be tough to replace along with Okie on the inside and Sorge."