By Dave Mast
The battle in Sugarcreek between the Ridgewood Generals and Garaway Lady Pirates had big meaning in very different ways for both teams.
For Ridgewood, it was an opportunity to move to 20-1 and maintain a shot at winning a share of the Inter-Valley Conference crown with undefeated Hiland.
For Garaway, it was a chance at retribution against a team which had dealt them a crucial loss earlier in the year.
For both, it was a perfect opportunity to hone their skills against a very good opponent heading into the tournament.
On this night, a misty Wednesday, Feb. 10 affair, it would be the Lady Pirates earning a 50-40 win, ruining what was set to be a great finale at Ridgewood three days later between the Generals and Lady Hawks.
“That was a big one for us,” said Garaway coach Jim Monigold. “We took that loss at their place pretty hard, and we wanted to come out and prove a point tonight, and we did. Plus it is a great momentum builder heading into the tournament.”
That momentum will be a key, considering these two teams, which know each other so well, will quite possibly meet in the Districts should everything pan out according to Hoyle.
For the Generals, it was a disappointing night of “what-ifs.”
“We are the more experienced team, and we just didn’t play like it tonight,” said Ridgewood skipper Doug Patterson. “We made way too many mistakes, too many turnovers. I thought we beat ourselves.”
The game was back and forth throughout the first half. Garaway jumped on top early at 8-4, but three straight buckets by Ridgewood to end the quarter gave it a 13-10 lead.
That quickly disappeared when Izzy Meese and Katya Misko scored inside. Garaway eventually got back out to a 21-18 lead, but Ridgewood again answered at the end of the quarter, getting three points from Audrey Tingle and a score inside from Amanda Lowery to take a 23-21 halftime lead.
“We were where we needed to be at the half,” said Patterson. “We just didn’t execute well in the second half.”
Freshman Sydney Mullet gave the Lady Pirates a 28-24 lead, and they threatened to stretch it further, but a three-point play by Lowery got Ridgewood back to within 30-28. However, Katelyn Miller scored twice inside, and after Autumn Brown scored on a put-back, Meese made two free throws to send the Lady Pirates into the fourth quarter up 36-30.
Much of the game boiled down to defending the paint for Garaway. With star post player Kendra Miller sidelined with strep throat, it was up to her sister Katelyn Miller and sophomore Misko to fill the big minutes defending Ridgewood’s twin towers, Lowery and Kaitlyn Finton. Unfortunately for Ridgewood, Finton got into immediate foul trouble and grabbed some pine time, but both Miller and Misko played huge roles in limiting Lowery to just 12 points.
“We were able to get some guards into the lane and get Finton into early foul trouble,” said Monigold. “They are both terrific players. But Katya has really been coming around and is doing some really good things for us. She controlled the boards and she scan score down low when we need her to. With Kendra out, she came up huge tonight.”
With the game in the balance, Garaway junior Courtney Werker took over, connecting on 8-of-8 free throws, helping to keep there Generals at bay.
Monigold said it was obvious Werker had the hot hand at the line, and wanted her to maintain possession as much as possible.
Werker made that strategy pay off.
“You have to step up when you’re asked to help your team get a win,” said Werker. “I know we were stalling a little bit in the fourth quarter, but when the lanes were there, I felt like I could take the ball deep, and I got fouled. I wanted to try to stay aggressive even though we were stalling.”
Her effort helped the Lady Pirates go 21-of-29 from the charity stripe, something the Generals failed to do, going a paltry 9-of-19 for the game, a number of those the front ends of one-and-ones.
“It felt like we were 1-for-100,” said Patterson, who noted that his team was 23-of-26 in the three game prior to this one.
Werker scored six straight points from the stripe, and Garaway forged its biggest lead at 44-34. Bayley Haynes would give Ridgewood hope by nailing a trey with 1:38 left to make it 45-39, but Ridgewood continued to get in its own way, and Garaway made enough free throws late to secure the win.
The win improved Garaway to 16-5, and Monigold said it was a big win for a team looking for that signature victory.
“This is huge, because we have been talking a lot about getting our confidence back,” said Monigold. “We thought we had it going into Hiland, but we were just cold that night To be able to get a big win like this heading into the tournament is a great sign.”
For Ridgewood, it will be disappointing to be playing the game Saturday against Hiland knowing that a share of the league title is out of reach, but Patterson said there is still plenty of reason to get up for the contest.
“I think we will be ready to play hard, and win or lose these last two games, we are going to get better at the right time of the season,” said Patterson, whose Generals (19-2) drew the number one seed in the Sectional tournament. We are not going to let this one game define this season.”
Lowery lead all scorers with 12, while Tingle added 11, Haynes added five and Brown tacked on four for the Generals. Miller put in 11 to pace the Lady Pirates, while Werker scored 10, Mullet and Meese each scored nine and Haley Shutt added four. But it may have been the effort of Misko, who had a seven point, nine rebound game, which was the biggest difference.