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HIGH SCHOOL BOYS' BASKETBALL: Apollo-Ridge boys top West Shamokin again

by on February 04, 2014 10:30 AM

SPRING CHURCH — Apollo-Ridge has West Shamokin’s number this season, and it just might put a new number up on the Vikings’ section championship banner.

Apollo-Ridge defeated West Shamokin for the second time this year, handing the Wolves just their third loss overall, 58-46, in a critical WPIAL Section 1-AA game Monday night. The Vikings denied West Shamokin a shot at the section title, while staying alive for their own share of the championship.

Apollo-Ridge (16-3, 8-2 section) can share the title with Summit Academy (13-4, 8-1) if West Shamokin (14-3, 6-3) beats Summit on the road Wednesday night. Apollo-Ridge hasn’t won a section championship in 20 years.

“There aren’t too many up there,” Apollo-Ridge coach Matt Gourley said, looking at the boys’ basketball section championship banner hanging in the gym, “and ’94 is the last one. That was a long time ago. Some of these kids weren’t even born yet.”

Actually, none of them were. Nor was West Shamokin even around.

The Wolves entered the night with a shot at their own title — outright — but, with the loss, can finish no better than third place.

Apollo-Ridge ran up and down the court all evening long, and the Wolves didn’t try much to slow the pace. Naturally, the team playing in its comfort level had the edge.

“We just pushed the ball,” Apollo-Ridge junior forward Alex Smith said. “We didn’t let them get back into their zone defense and took all the opportunities we could.”

“We played outside ourselves too many times,” West Shamokin coach Mike Nagy said. “We handled their pressure, did a really nice job, but it sped our tempo up. We came down too many times a little bit out of control. That’s not our style.”

Apollo-Ridge is done with section play. The Vikings visit Steel Valley on Wednesday and welcome Penns Manor next Monday in non-conference games to close the regular season. The most important game for Apollo-Ridge’s fate is being played by West Shamokin on Wednesday.

The Wolves’ winning streak ended at five games, since having been beaten by Apollo-Ridge on Jan. 10. Nagy said he wasn’t terribly bummed out, even though it was the Wolves who looked to be closing in on a section title entering Monday’s game.

“We had a little bit of a letdown at Burrell to start the (section) season. That game’s haunting us a little bit now,” he said, “but the kids have come out and played hard each game. I’m not disappointed at all. Our overall record is much better than where I thought we’d be right now.”

Mitchell Johnston scored a game-high 16 points for the Apollo-Ridge, followed by Smith (13), Tre Tipton (12) and Duane Brown (10). The Vikings shot 48.9 percent (23 of 47) for the game, including 51.9 percent (14 of 27) in the second half.

Senior Zane Clowser led West Shamokin with 14 points, and Zac Horner scored 12.

“I just have some really athletic kids,” Gourley said. “I really hate playing against Coach Nagy. He’s a great coach, and he’s always got his kids ready to play, especially when you play him for the second time. He has a habit of beating me the second time around, but fortunately our kids pulled me out tonight.”

Gourley made sure his players were up to date on the section-title scenarios that hinged on the game.

“We wanted to make them aware of how big the game was, hopefully get them fired up,” he said. “Fortunately, we got to play on our home court tonight. That was pretty important, because we play pretty well here, but they definitely knew the scenario coming in.”

Apollo-Ridge didn’t trail after the four-minute mark of the first quarter, but the Vikings led by just five, 40-35, going into the fourth quarter and just three, 40-37, shortly after that. West Shamokin couldn’t play well long enough to pull even, though, and the Vikings pushed their lead to 11 in just a few minutes, capped by an extra-long 3 by Smith.

“I thought I saw a glimpse in there in the first half that we could maybe take it to these guys, but we came out in the third quarter and we got some terrible shots,” Nagy said. “Guys were out of control, off balance. They were throwing up some terrible shots. That’s the exact opposite of what I wanted to do. And we hung around. We were down five going into the fourth quarter, and Smith hit that long, long 3. That’s actually a shot that you want him to shoot, but I give him credit. He buried it.”

Both teams are WPIAL playoff-bound. Apollo-Ridge was the Cinderella of the league last year, upsetting Sto-Rox and Jeannette to get all the way to the final four.

“We got pretty far last year, and our goal is to go a step further,” Gourley said. “You never know who you’re going to face; you never know what kind of seeding you’re going to get. It’s a crapshoot with the WPIAL sometimes.”

West Shamokin plays host to Kittanning tonight before its game at Summit Academy on Wednesday. The Wolves also visit Valley and Union-Rimersburg for non-section tune-ups.

“We have a long week,” Nagy said. “We have a rivalry game at home tomorrow with Kittanning. … We’ve just got to keep working and improving. We’re not at a place right now where we can level off. The kids saw it tonight, what we can do and what we can’t do, and we’ve got to stay within ourselves. We’ve got to play our game regardless of who our opponent is. That gives us something to work on the next week.”

Eli Nellis is a sports writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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