Apollo-Ridge's suffocating defense leads to tourney win
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Apollo-Ridge coach Matt Gourley said he always wanted to have a team like Leechburg coach Damian Davies often puts on the floor.
A devastating full-court press and pressure on in-bounds plays by Apollo-Ridge forced 15 first-quarter turnovers Saturday night as the Vikings stormed to a 71-23 victory over Leechburg to win the annual Leechburg Tip-off Tournament. Tournament MVP Josh Reynolds led four Apollo-Ridge players in double figures with 13 points as the Vikings jumped out to a 21-2 lead and never looked back.
“I've always admired the way Coach Davies' teams have played and I've always wanted a team to play like his team,” Gourley said. “And we finally have the athletes to play that kind of a game — up and down the floor and it was fun to watch.”
Consecutive 3-point field goals by Evan Davis and another basket off a steal by Lucas Burrell gave Apollo-Ridge a 13-2 advantage less than four minutes into the game before a large crowd at Lewis Hicks Gym.
Things got so frustrating for Leechburg that two consecutive in bounds passes were purposely hit off the legs of Vikings players when the passer couldn't find anybody open.
Leechburg's offense came to life briefly in the second period, but the Blue Devils were too far behind by then.
“I think Apollo-Ridge created a lot of good shots themselves with great pressure,” Davies said. “I like how they play and the way they get after it. They're quick, long and athletic.”
Ten players for Apollo-Ridge saw steady action, something Gourley indicated the Vikings would do as the season wears on.
“We do have a starting five, but I think we have a starting 10,” Gourley said. “I'm not afraid to put any of these guys in. They all know what we're doing and they all work hard.”
Apollo-Ridge didn't relent in the third quarter. Alex Smith scored baskets off consecutive steals as the sophomore guard scored 11 of his 12 points in the third period.
Another steal by Burrell resulted in a shovel pass to Smith for yet another Vikings baskets.
Even the Billingsley twins got into the act in the fourth quarter as Connor scored off a feed from Cody.
“Josh Reynolds and Tre Tipton do a great job orchestrating the other kids,” Gourley said.
Tipton led Apollo-Ridge with seven rebounds and seven steals.
Sophomore Randy Smail was a bright spot for Leechburg, scoring 10 points while coming off the bench.
“You have to be able to handle that pressure,” Davis said. “We play some teams in our section likes Wilkinsburg and Imani (Christian) where they're going to be trapping, and you just have to get out of those traps and reverse it.”
Leechburg played without Jake Iellimo, who sprained his ankle Thursday night in practice. Iellimo had reportedly been playing well in the pre-season and will be expected to contribute when he gets back.
George Guido is a freelance writer.
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