By Doug Chapin
McDONALD — It’s the last game of the regular season, it’s a non-league contest and everyone seems to be focused on the upcoming high school basketball tournament. Often in that situation, teams just go through the motions and get the game over with.
That is not the case when Mineral Ridge High and McDonald High face each other. With bodies flying all over the court, intensity was high as Ridge pulled out a 52-47 victory over the Blue Devils.
“This is a typical Mineral Ridge-McDonald backyard rivalry game,” Ridge coach Del Ruiter said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of record you come in with, whether you’ve got a winning or losing record, when you come to play this game you’d better bring your game when you cross that black line on the court.”
McDonald coach Rob Hilbun agreed about the intensity of the rivalry. “It doesn’t matter what the records are, throw them out,” he said. “Mineral Ridge is an improving team; we knew it was going to be a battle.”
The secret to Mineral Ridge’s success was closing quarters strong. The Rams (8-12) led 15-9 after one quarter by scoring the last five points of the quarter. McDonald tied the game at 21-21 with 1:06 left in the half, but Ridge scored two more buckets for a 25-21 halftime edge.
The third quarter was the same story, as the Devils (12-8) fought back to tie the game at 30-30 with 4:24 on the clock, only to have the visitors score seven in a row for a 37-30 lead after three.
In the fourth quarter, though, the Devils could get no closer than three and Mineral Ridge put the game away by making five of its last six free throws.
Brittney Bevilacqua scored 16 points for Ridge, Abby Riffee had 14 points, five assists and four steals, and Savanna Flesch contributed eight points and nine rebounds.
“I can’t emphasize the point enough how our seniors came through,” Ruiter said. “Savanna Flesch and Lacie Graham played important roles in the last game of the season and the girls just kept it up tonight. They wanted this one real bad and I feel proud of the way they played. They didn’t fold under pressure.”
For McDonald, Joh’Vonnie Mosley had 19 points and 13 rebounds and Taylor Stanley had 10 points and five assists.
“I’m very proud of my seniors, though we wish we could have gone out with a victory,” Hilbun said. “Joh’Vonnie has been fabulous as a four-year starter. You couldn’t ask for a better kid, she works hard, she plays hard and she’s consistent. That’s what you want from a senior.
“We’re going to miss her but we hope to make a run in the tournament and extend her time with us.”
In tournament play, Mineral Ridge is scheduled to play Badger next Thursday in the Division III sectional at Ashtabula Lakeside. Mineral Ridge is the host school for a Division III sectional-district tournament, but the OHSAA does not permit host schools to play on their home floor.
McDonald has a first-round bye in the Div. IV sectional at Hubbard and will play Wellsville or Ashtabula Sts. John & Paul on Thursday.
“We came on strong,” Ruiter said about Ridge’s performance in recent weeks. “We won a few games at the end of the season that people didn’t expect us to win. This game was one, we beat a good Lisbon team and we beat a good East Palestine team. We had a good second half of the year.”
McDonald struggled down the stretch, dropping four of its last five games, but Hilbun has confidence the Devils can get something done in the tournament.
“It’s a new season,” he said. “We have a whole week to prepare and hopefully we’ll be ready.”