Ridgewood stuns Lady Pirates 57-41 with match-up zone surprise in district title game

All season long, when Jim Monigold’s Lady Pirates needed a big second half defensive effort to jettison them into a comfortable lead, they got it.

But when Garaway needed that defensive effort the most, it evaded them, resulting in the Lady Pirates’ elimination from the Div. III girls basketball tournament.

On Feb. 27 at Indian Valley High School, Ridgewood’s Doug Patterson and his staff designed a great game plan, implementing a match-up zone defense, and the Ridgewood Generals pulled it off to perfection in a 57-41 victory that stunned the top-seeded Lady Pirates and allowed the Generals to capture the district crown.

“We played man the first two times we played them this season (both Garaway wins), and this time we decided to go into the match-up two-three zone,” said Patterson. “We stressed a great deal about knowing where their shooters were. We stressed that we needed to step outside of our comfort zone, because we weren’t in a straight zone, we were in a match-up. The girls did everything we could have asked of them to do with it.”

Amazingly, Patterson said they have played very little zone this season, but his players picked up the intricacies of the match-up extremely well. His team bought into the surprise concept, and it baffled Garaway. Ridgewood was able to get a hand in the face of nearly every Lady Pirates shooter.

That defensive pressure caused issues for Garaway on two fronts. First, it limited the Lady Pirates to a paltry 21 percent shooting night from the floor. Secondly, it forced them into 21 turnovers.

Considering how lucky 21 is considered, it was far from lucky for the Lady Pirates.

“Normally we come out and set up in a zone and we hit shots,” said Monigold. “We’ve been able to get good looks. But at the beginning, I think our confidence got shaken a little bit and Audrey (Tingle) was able to make some shots and they got some buckets to fall to put the pressure on us. That added pressure combined with the cold start got to us.”

Tingle came out of the gate like a woman possessed. She hit an and-one to start the game’s scoring, then after Kendra Miller hit a short jumper and Izzy Meese canned a 3-pointer, Tingle split a pair of free throws before finding Autumn Brown inside with a nice pass. Two more Ridgewood stops and two more Tingle driving scores saw Ridgewood take a 10-5 lead. Katya Misko split a pair of charity tosses before Brown drove and ended the first quarter with Ridgewood ahead 12-6.

Another three-ball from Meese and another Miller jumper sandwiched around Ridgewood’s Eliza Haynes’ three-point play drew Garaway to within 15-11, but Tingle scored on a drive, Kaitlyn Finton scored inside and Tingle hit another free throw for a 20-11 Ridgewood lead.

Courtney Werker’s trey eventually got Garaway within 24-17, but right before the half Tingle penetrated and hit a pair of free throws after a foul to send the Generals into the half up 26-17.

Then came the pivotal start to the second half, a time Garaway has owned this season. It has used that time to crush opponents, and many expected that big run to come once again to start the third quarter.

It never materialized.

While Garaway‘s defense did improve, its offense simply could not solve the match-up zone. Three minutes into the quarter, Misko finally got someone on the board with a put-back. However, Garaway had four other possessions in which they could have made up ground but didn’t. Then Finton got into the act, drilling a triple. Later, another Werker three-ball got Garaway to within seven at 32-25, and even while Garaway was setting the table for a comeback by getting a lot of stops defensively, the offense sputtered, turning the ball over on four of the next five possessions.

On the heels of all of those turnovers, Finton hit a free throw, Tingle got to the rack for a score and Finton hit her second trey. Suddenly Ridgewood held a commanding 38-25 lead. Meese hit two free throws to end the quarter, but Garaway was reeling, trailing 38-27.

Then Garaway really got serious on defense, turning up the pressure. Meese made a steal and scored, and Hailey Shutt hit a huge 3-pointer to trim the lead to six at 38-32. Garaway was coming, had momentum, and appeared to be on the verge of making something happen.

“It was disappointing because we were able to turn up the defensive pressure there, but we were unable to convert that into points,” said Monigold. “You mix in some turnovers with some missed shots, and all of a sudden the deficit turns into a mountain.”

Instead, Ridgewood battled through adversity, stuck to the game plan and the two teams traded buckets until Brown scored inside to give the Generals a 51-41 lead with two minutes to play.

Ridgewood then began getting easy scores on lay-ups as Garaway pressured full court, and the upset was complete.

“I can’t even describe it right now,” said Patterson. “Our goal was to simply get to this district final game, not even win it. For 13 years we have worked hard to get here. It feels great.”

Tingle, who ended the night with 18 points and a half-dozen assists, reiterated those sentiments.

“I don’t even know how to feel, this is crazy,” said Tingle. “We came out and practiced really hard, and we believed we could win this game. We all stepped up and had a big game, especially Finton. It was just a lot of hard work and dedication that helped us stay with the game plan.”

Brown said working on the zone and playing defense was the key to the game, and it took a total team effort to pull it off.

“This is like a dream,” said Brown, who ended the game with 11 points, many of those coming at key moments in the game as Garaway tried to battle back. “I think we all worked so hard as a team. I don’t even think we had one major contributor. It was all team.”

Aside from Tingle’s 18 and Brown’s 11, Finton stepped up with a monster effort, both in the scoring column, where she knocked down 16, and in the zone, where she played a key role in smothering Garaway in the key and post area.

Garaway was led by Meese’s 15 points, while Miller added eight, Werker scored seven and Misko tacked on five. Those are under the norm for the talented Lady Pirates, and Monigold said the reason was obvious.

“You shoot 21 percent, and that makes it tough to win on any night,” said Monigold.

The suddenness of the loss, and the searing sting of the finality of it all, marred an otherwise sensational season for the Lady Pirates.

“I told the girls I was extremely proud of them,” said Monigold. “I told them they need to keep their heads high. It was a heck of a season, but tournament trails are like this. You look back through history and there are times when teams just get cold and have an off-night. You hope and pray it doesn’t happen in the tournament in a game like this, but unfortunately it did. It’s going to sting, but there is only one team in the state (in Div. III) that isn’t going to feel this. Unfortunately, it was earlier than what we wanted.”

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