Ridge beat Mathews 63-53 to stay unbeaten in the conference.
By CHUCK HOUSTEAU
MINERAL RIDGE -- The Springfield and South Range high basketball teams are considered the top teams in the Inter County League.
But the team quietly sitting atop the early season conference standings is Mineral Ridge.
The Rams (6-1) improved to 3-0 in league play with Friday's 63-53 defeat of Mathews.
The win didn't come easy for Ridge, but thanks to some strong scoring by senior Gary Anderson in the third period and a 10-for-10 effort in the final quarter at the foul line, the Rams were able to hold off the Mustangs.
"We always have a real tough time with Mathews," Ridge coach Del Ruiter said. "[Mathews coach] Kevin Haynie does a nice job with those kids. They have a young team, but they are a nice ballclub."
Slow start: Ridge, which was averaging around 80 points per game heading into this contest, started slow and didn't gain control of the contest until the final frame.
Despite 10 first quarter points from the team's leading scorer, senior Malachi Hall, Mineral Ridge trailed by as many as 10 points in the opening quarter. Hall hit a 30-foot shot at the buzzer to pull the Rams to within 17-12.
The senior guard finished with 16 points.
Mathews used a huge height advantage and quickness to overcome the Rams' full-court press to get quite a few easy baskets and take a 32-30 lead into the break.
Ruiter then called off the press in the third quarter and went to a matchup zone defense. His other scoring ace, Anderson, began to heat up and the Rams ran several plays to get him shots.
The results were that Mathews was held to seven points in the period and Anderson knocked down four shots for 11 points.
"[Anderson's] a great shooter," Ruiter said. "He doesn't look like a basketball player, but he's tough when he is on."
The strong effort in the third quarter helped Ridge get a 47-39 lead, but there was no quit in these Mustangs.
"We had a good push to get close," Haynie said. "But we just didn't have the experience to get the job done."
Mathews worked to cut the Rams' lead to two points, 50-48, on a basket by Adam Englebaugh with 5:47 remaining. The junior finished with 16 points.
Staying close: After falling behind again by seven points, senior Marc Burcham hit a three-pointer with 2 minutes left to make the score 57-53. Burcham scored 17 points.
But the Rams made all of their free throws down the stretch.
Ruiter said that his team hasn't played any upper echelon teams yet, but the Rams feel confident that if they come to play, they have a chance to stay on top in the league standings.
Ridge overcame a better than 50 percent (23-42) shooting night by Mathews by forcing the young Mustangs into 20 turnovers.
Bobby Burgess also played a strong game for the Rams by scoring 11 points and grabbing nine rebounds.