Apollo-Ridge advances to quarterfinals for 1st time since 1991
After Wednesday night's WPIAL Class AA first-round game against Sto-Rox, Apollo-Ridge sophomore guard Tre Tipton spoke about his teammates' faith in each other's abilities at about the same super-speed pace the Vikings sustained minutes earlier on the court.
Apollo-Ridge answered No. 5 seed Sto-Rox's aggressive man-to-man pressure with its own version of up-tempo basketball during a 56-52 upset win at North Allegheny. Apollo-Ridge advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals for the first time since 1991 and will meet No. 4 Jeannette (18-4) on Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
“The team has always believed in me, and I believe in my teammates,” Tipton said. “We always say we want to play for each other.”
A 16-5 run that stretched most of the first quarter assured Apollo-Ridge (17-7) that it had the talent to run with Sto-Rox (14-9) — or at least stop Sto-Rox from easy transition buckets.
“We're a quick team, but when you face a team like (Sto-Rox), you realize they're a lot quicker, so we kind of had to slow them down,” said Apollo-Ridge coach Matt Gourley, whose Vikings used a zone for much of the game.
Tipton, 6-foot-5 senior forward Connor Billingsley and senior guard Lucas Burrell established themselves as Apollo-Ridge's scoring threats early. Tipton had five of his 14 points in the first quarter as he managed two putbacks and a free throw. Billingsley scored five of his 15 points in the quarter. And Burrell, who finished with a team-high 18 points, sank the first of his four 3-pointers.
Sto-Rox, down 24-15 about two minutes into the second quarter, started a comeback, one that junior swingman Lenny Williams led.
Williams, who finished with a game-high 21 points, sank a jumper, had a putback and then made three 3-pointers to bring Sto-Rox's deficit to one point just before halftime.
“It wasn't as excited as you might think,” Gourley said of the Apollo-Ridge locker room at halftime. “We felt like we were the better team, particularly inside, and we let them back in the game.”
Both teams eased up on the gas in the third quarter, and they entered the fourth tied at 39.
Apollo-Ridge then returned to a run-and-gun approach as Burrell sank a 3-pointer and Tipton scored in transition within the quarter's first minute.
When Sto-Rox stopped Apollo-Ridge's transition offense during the following few minutes, Apollo-Ridge turned to Billingsley, who delivered six consecutive points.
“I felt like I might be able to play a big role,” said Billingsley, who also defended Sto-Rox 6-6 junior Makil Allen most of the game. “It was all my teammates, though. They found me in the right places.”
A layup and free throw by Javelle Kirkland cut Sto-Rox's deficit to two with 29 seconds left. Sto-Rox had an opportunity to tie the game in the final 10 seconds, but a jumper sailed a bit long, and Apollo-Ridge recovered the rebound.
“It's great for the school,” Gourley said.