Fast-paced Apollo-Ridge boys hoops off to scorching start
The speed limit just went up at Apollo-Ridge. And the boys basketball team has a lead foot.
“Full throttle,” senior guard Evan Martin said. “We call our games 32 minutes of Hell.”
Running the floor with all the subtlety of a Sprint car race on a Friday night at Lernerville Speedway, the Vikings have zinged to a 5-0 start — their best in at least a decade. And their frantic style of play has become a spectacle to watch.
“It's a lot of fun,” Evan Davis said. “Coach lets us go and run. We're not undisciplined, though. We stay within our limits.”
Always in a rush to get back to the 3-point line, the long-bombing Vikings have connected on 47 3s (in 127 attempts) and are averaging 74.4 points, the second-most in WPIAL Class AA.
“We want to get out and run the floor as quickly as possible,” coach Matt Gourley said. “We have the athletes and mentality to play this way.
“We need to have to five guys on the floor who are willing to put in the time and work hard. If you have four guys working hard and one who isn't, you'll fail.”
The quick-hit scheme is predicated on a full-court press and quick outlet passes to a slew of waiting shooters ready to score in transition.
“It doesn't matter who scores for us,” senior guard Josh Reynolds said. “We have a balanced attack. We try to spread the floor, get the rebound and push it.”
Apollo-Ridge cruised to victory in the Leechburg tournament and defeated a pair of Class-AAA teams in Freeport (85-68) and Derry (56-34). It opened Section 1-AA play with a 77-68 win over Summit Academy.
Lucas Burell leads a balanced attack in scoring at 14.4 points per game, followed by Davis at 13.0, sophomore point guard Tre Tipton at 12.2, sophomore two-guard Alex Smith at 11.8 and Reynolds at 9.8.
Davis has hit 18 of 38 3s, and Burrell had made 15 of 33.
Despite the fast start, Gourley isn't holding out his hand for an award. To him, five games don't define a season.
“We haven't done anything yet,” Gourley said. “These (early season) games don't do anything for our playoff hopes.”
But they're fun to watch.
“The key is to keep it going,” he said. “Especially in section play.”
It's not like Apollo-Ridge is the first team to play five guards and turn games into track meets. Highlands made it work for years, zipping he ball upcourt to an open shooter before the defense even knew it had lost possession. Highlands won a lot of shootouts that way and averaged upwards of 80 points.
With so much emphasis on the offense playing this way, though, one has to wonder if defense becomes lenient. Not the case, according to Reynolds.
“We try to pride ourselves on defense,” he said. “We use a lot of energy to press full-court.
“We all have faith in one another to make a good play. We trust each other to give up the ball.”
Gourley said its a race to the next basket.
“You want to get to the hoop as quickly as possible,” Gourley said. “You don't want to give the defense any time to set up anything.”
Apollo-Ridge does have forwards, even though five-guard looks have become the norm.
Twin brothers Connor and Cody Billingsley, 6-foot-5 and 6-4, respectively, have played valuable minutes in a deep rotation.
Ten players have logged minutes, which is not a complete surprise considering the tiring style of play.
“It can be kind of draining,” Martin said. “That's why we need 10 guys.”
A Section 1-AA game to watch comes Jan. 8, when Apollo-Ridge travels to Burrell — considered by many to be the section favorite. It will be a clash of style, though, because Burrell relies on half-court play and physicality.
Before that, local fans may want to check out Apollo-Ridge at Kittanning on Wednesday. It's a nonsection game, but Kittanning also is unbeaten (4-0) and averages 76.3 points.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.