NEWCOMERSTOWN -- Often you can throw out the records in high school sports when a pair of rival schools hook up. When the respective schools are separated by a mere seven miles, it becomes a real backyard rivalry such as the annual Orange and Black clash between Ridgewood and Newcomerstown.
This time, it was the favored Generals who escaped with a hard-fought 34-31 victory over the host Trojans in a Inter-Valley Conference hardwood battle on Friday.
RHS entered the night with a sparkling 11-2 record, and in the first meeting between the schools had picked up a convincing 62-36 win over the Trojans, who entered play with a modest 4-8 mark.
For the Trojans it was a case of missed opportunities down the stretch that ended in a tough loss.
"I'm extremely proud of the kids' effort tonight," Newcomerstown coach Dan Weekley stated. "That's a quality basketball team, and I think we're a quality basketball team. We continue to get better and going to come back out and keep working hard."
With 42.3 seconds left in the game, NHS trailed by just a 33-31 count as junior Caleb Fenton stepped to the foul line looking to tie up the game. Unfortunately for the hosts, Fenton came up empty on both shots but junior Cody Sproat was able to snare the rebound and get off a return shot, that was also off the mark to keep the score at 33-31 in favor of the Generals.
With only three team fouls in the half, the Trojans were forced to foul numerous times to collect seven team fouls to send RHS to the charity stripe to extend the game.
Newcomerstown's seventh foul sent Ridgewood senior Richard Hawthorne to the foul line with a one-and-one opportunity with 24.2 seconds left. Hawthorne calmly sank the front end to push the lead to 34-31, but his second shot was off, however 6-6 junior Evan Jones grabbed the big offensive rebound and got the ball to senior guard Kevin Davis who was quickly fouled.
Now it was Davis who stepped to the line with 18.5 seconds to go, and again the Trojans stayed alive as Davis misfired on the shot and Trojan junior Paul Matthews collected the rebound as the Trojans called time-out with 11.3 seconds left to play.
Out of the timeout, senior Bubba Harris inbounded the ball to Darian Arnold, who was able to find junior Eric Rose who got off a potential game-tying three-point shot that came up empty and was rebounded by Ridgewood's Tanner Stoffer, who was fouled with five seconds left.
"We wanted to go for the 'three' coming out of the time-out," Weekley explained. "Time-wise, we felt like that was our best opportunity. They are normally a good free throw shooting team, so we thought we'd give it a shot. Sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it doesn't."
Once again, the Generals had a chance to put the Trojans away, but again NHS stayed alive as Stoffer's front end of the one-and-one was off target and rebounded by Harris, whose desperation half-court heave missed the mark as the final buzzer sounded.
"My hat goes off to Coach Weekley and his kids," Ridgewood coach Alan Keesee said. "They had a great plan, and their young kids are playing with great effort and are really improving."
Ridgewood (12-2, 9-2 IVC) was led by Thomas Ellis with a game-high 17 points, while Jones finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Arnold tallied 15 points to pace Newcomerstown (4-9, 2-7 IVC) while Harris contributed seven points and snared 11 rebounds.
"I thought defensively we did a real nice job tonight," Weekley offered. "They didn't shoot the ball real well, but I think we were the cause of a lot of their shooting problems. We wanted to switch out on their shooters and try to shorten the game at the offensive end."