Apollo-Ridge boys outlast host Leechburg to win tipoff tournament
In an era when rivalry games are increasingly rare, the best formula sometimes is to just outlast your opponent.
That's what Apollo-Ridge did Saturday night to win the annual Leechburg Tipoff Tournament, 55-44, over the host Blue Devils.
The game featured a combined 56 turnovers, and the teams combined to miss 37 foul shots.
“When it comes to Apollo and Leechburg, it's like Pitt and West Virginia,” Vikings coach Matt Gourley said. “It's a backyard rivalry and they play a similar style to what we do.
“We knew coming in that it was going to be a physical game, and it was.”
Apollo-Ridge looked like it was going to run away with the game early, pulling out to a 15-6 lead at the end of one quarter thanks to a pair of baskets each from tournament MVP Alex Smith and freshman Duane Brown.
But Leechburg made its way back after Randy Smail and Ryan McDermott each made 3-pointers.
The Blue Devils got into the double bonus early in the second quarter. Leechburg was only 8 for 17 from the foul line in the second quarter, but it was enough to give the Blue Devils a 24-21 halftime lead.
“That's a huge factor for us,” Leechburg coach Damian Davies said about his team's foul shooting. “You're diving all over the floor, then you've got to step to the foul line, but you have to get used to it.”
Leechburg's Ben Ritchie hit a 3-pointer to start the third quarter, but that seemed to light a fuse for Apollo-Ridge.
The Vikings went on a 14-1 run to build a 35-28 lead.
“We got into foul trouble early and they did a great job from the foul line getting back into the game,” Gourley said. “To their credit, they forced some turnovers, but we had a lot of unforced errors.”
Tre' Tipton, who saw his first action of the season late in the half, propelled the Vikings' run with eight points.
He sustained an injury playing football recently, and could be seen favoring a shoulder during pregame shooting.
“He's a difference-maker,” Gourley said of Tipton. “He wasn't going to play, and he wasn't out for disciplinary reasons. He was out for other reasons. That group got into the championship game without him and I was going to see if they could win it. But they came to me and asked if I'd play him.”
Two putbacks by Leechburg's Jordan Cominos straddling the third and fourth quarters brought the Blue Devils to within 37-36.
“We have a great core of seniors that are leaders and who have played for a long time,” Davies said. “Practices have been intense, and when you go up against (Apollo-Ridge), that's a great test of your toughness.”
Two straight steals by the Vikings and three baskets by sophomore Maurice Stankus gave Apollo-Ridge a 43-36 with 5:02 to play.
Brown finished with 19 points, giving him 30 for his first varsity weekend.
Meanwhile, Tipton scored eight and chipped in with three blocked shots, five assists and five steals.
Dom Schrecengost led the Vikings with six rebounds.
Apollo-Ridge was 6 of 21 from the foul line until the Vikings hit all six in the game's final minute.
Ritchie led Leechburg with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
George Gudio is a freelance writer.