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Apollo-Ridge boys basketball to be 'more physical' this season

| Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, 10:12 p.m.
Apollo-Ridge basketball player Duane Brown looks for an opening during practice on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Apollo-Ridge basketball player Duane Brown looks for an opening during practice on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.

What a memorable season it was for the 2012-13 Apollo-Ridge boys basketball team.

The Vikings finished 18-9, won three WPIAL playoff games and made the WPIAL Class AA semifinals for the first time since 1988 with a stunning 53-49 victory against Jeannette in a game that will be talked about for many years.

What does the Apollo-Ridge program do for an encore?

“Our team will have a different make-up,” fifth-year coach Matt Gourley said. “Last year, we would get down the floor fast and shoot. This year, we'll be more physical.”

Gone are sharpshooters Lucas Burrell, Evan Davis and Josh Rey-nolds. Returning to the fold, however, are Tre Tipton and guard Alex Smith, both sophomores.

“We've got a good group of sophomores coming along, too” Gourley said. “We're going to change a few things and be very competitive.”

Mitchell Johnston and Dom Schrecengost, reserves last year, will be looked at as major contributors this season.

Also needing replaced are the Billingsley twins — Connor and Cody — who provided scoring and muscle when it was needed the most.

“The Billingsley boys were a huge factor in our success last year,” Gourley said.

Now the Vikings will rely on newcomer Eric Moran, at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, in the middle.

Other players the Vikings will rely on are Maurice Stankus, freshman guard Duane Brown and Ryan Ferguson.

Loren Wingard, a junior, also is expected to see playing time as Apollo-Ridge opens its 44th basketball season Dec. 6 at the Leechburg Tip-off tournament.

The Vikings will play in Section 1-AA, which was slimmed down to six teams last season with Freeport advancing to Class AAA and Elderton High School shutting its doors.

Apollo-Ridge will play a challenging nonsection schedule. One such game will be against Kittanning in a rare Wednesday night encounter two days before section play begins Dec. 20 against Summit Academy.

“I think Section 1 is a quality section,” Gourley said. “West Shamokin is always in the game, Ford City had a good tradition and Summit is always quick and athletic.”

Burrell and Deer Lakes both lost a considerable amount of starters and are expected to be down, but Gourley said he isn't expecting them to be out of it.

There are only 10 section games again this season, so each team has little room to stumble.

Gourley welcomes back key assistant Gary Davis, along with Ted Faber and Roger Gourley, the coach's father.

The Vikings also will host the Apollo Trust Tournament over the Christmas break with Leechurg, Saltsburg and defending Southwest Christian Conference champion Harvest Baptist participating.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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