Landon Troyer photos
Just because a favorite loses doesn’t mean it is going to be a cakewalk for the opposing team they play next. That was the case when Ridgewood upset Sandy Valley in the district semifinal game, setting up a play date with the Garaway Pirates that took place at Dover High School on Friday, March 9.
The Pirates had pulled an upset themselves in the district semifinal, romping past number-one-seed Union Local 59-39. So despite having dealt Ridgewood a pair of losses by about 14 points earlier this year, the one guy who was in no mood to underestimate the Generals was Garaway head coach Terry Rowe.
It took a great Garaway effort, but the Pirates did indeed advance to their third straight regional tournament with a 60-50 victory.
“That is a dangerous Ridgewood team that was playing really well at the end of the year,” Rowe said. “Chase Griffith is one of the most talented players in the league, and Kaden Smith adds a completely new dimension for them. They beat a really good Sandy Valley team, so we knew we had to play well.”
Garaway was able to turn a 5-5 tie into a 10-point lead, and from that point on, it was a game of “catch me if you can” for the Generals.
While Garaway senior Trevor Donaldson got the Pirates rolling, Erik Miller gave the Pirates a 22-14 lead on a long triple. Ridgewood’s star player Griffith kept drawing his team closer at every turn. His jumper in the second period got Ridgewood back to within 22-16, but Donaldson was so hot that the Generals couldn’t completely close the gap. Five Donaldson points and an Ethan Roden score inside pushed the Pirates’ lead back to 33-21.
When Ridgewood challenged again in the third period, it would be Donaldson draining back-to-back triples to push the lead back to 39-27. Griffith and Smith drew Ridgewood closer as the Generals continued to hang tough.
When Corey Troyer fed Roden on a beautiful assist, Garaway led 41-27, but Ridgewood went on a 12-3 run to cut back into Garaway’s lead, trimming its deficit to 46-39.
It was a case of Garaway building a double-digit lead only to see the Generals battle back. That trend continued, but the Pirates never let Ridgewood all the way back after building its initial lead.
“We answered every one of their challenges,” Rowe said. “We didn’t panic, and we hit some big shots when we needed them most, and that helped keep the pressure on them.”
Garaway eventually got into the one-and-one, and led by the red-hot Donaldson, they were able to keep a pesky Generals team at bay.
Miller knocked down a couple of free throws to extend Garaway’s lead to 50-41. Roden scored inside, Austin Fearon hit two free throws and Donaldson connected on enough free throws down the stretch to keep the Generals at bay.
Rowe praised his team for another terrific all-around effort and noted that this team has gone about returning to the regional level in a completely different way than the previous two teams. Two years ago the Pirates were loaded with a talented senior group, perhaps one of the finest senior classes to come along in years. Last year they rode the tenacious play of All-Ohio guard Ty Hamsher and big men Ben Mason and Joel Honigford, surprising many people who thought they would take a step backward. The same could be said for this year when many again questioned whether they had the ability to return to regional play.
“This is a great group of kids who have believed in themselves all along,” Rowe said. “We have always had the goal of looking at our talent and utilizing that talent and improving every day. I think seeing our success and seeing it come in yet another very different way than we have in the past two years speaks volumes as to the kinds of kids we have. It’s a credit to their willingness to be coached and to work hard.”
Rowe said reserve players off of last year’s JV squad like Miller, Troyer, Fearon and others could have played big minutes at the varsity level for many teams.
“Those kids have waited patiently and kept working hard on their game,” Rowe said. “They are gym rats who have worked hard, and now they are getting their turn in the spotlight.”
The Pirates will now face Oak Hill in the regional semifinal at Ohio University on Wednesday, March 14.
Rowe said Oak Hill presents plenty of challenges. The favorite coming out of their district, Oak Hill boasts a pair of 1,000-career-point scorers and some big men who can play inside.
“There is a reason they are 23-2,” Rowe said of Oak Hill. “They are talented, and they will come in hungry, having been upset last year in the district final.”
With a strong regular season slate, the Pirates feel they are more than ready to step up and enter the realm of regional play again, regardless of who they face.
To view more of Landon Troyer’s photos, visit his web page at https://photosbylkt.pixieset.com/.