Czechowicz, Foster lead way for Ridley

RIDLEY — Drew Hanna was braced Saturday for what he called “a typical dogfight against Ridley.’ In the end, the host Green Raiders proved to be the side better equipped to pull out a hard-fought win.

Behind 19 points each from Nick Czechowicz and Brett Foster, the Green Raiders captured a 64-48 victory that could prove vital in the Central League standings.

How the teams arrived at that final was befitting the dog-eat-dog nature of the Central League this season. The teams battled through three technical fouls, a slew of hard fouls near the basket and an increasingly heated atmosphere in a game that was questionably officiated at best.

As much as the emotions see-sawed, the players also dealt with the ebb and flow of runs back and forth in a hectic game.

“You’ve definitely got to keep your composure,’ Czechowicz said. “When you get an energy play like a fast-break layup or a block or something, it keeps building up, the momentum. Then you get a stop on defense and each player just plays off each other.’

It’s fitting that Czechowicz would be the authority on energy plays, since he was the one who so often provided the exceedingly simple shots that served to deflate any momentum Penncrest would build. His 19 points came on 7-for-9 shooting from the field, many of them ho-hum mid-range jumpers or shots near the elbow that Czechowicz buried time and again with his somewhat unorthodox shooting release. His steadiness — providing seven first-quarter points, then 10 in the fourth quarter — stood in contrast to the push-and-pull of craziness that the game occasionally descended into.

At every turn, it seemed, one team was rattling off some kind of a run. Ridley (12-3, 7-3) built up a cushion with an 8-0 run to end the first quarter and led by eight midway through the second. That’s before Penncrest orchestrated a 9-0 run, capped by Mike Doyle’s three-point play on a runner to the hoop that gave the Lions a 23-22 lead with 2:30 left in the half.

That, however, would be the last time Penncrest (11-5, 6-4) would lead. Ridley closed the half on a 6-0 run, four of the points coming from Julian Wing. That run grew to 12-0 out of the break, and a Foster step-back 3-pointer a few possessions later put the Green Raiders up, 37-25.

“I’m just trying to help my team be aggressive,’ Foster said. “They were coming back on us then, so I just wanted to expand the lead again.’

Shortly thereafter, though, Foster hit the bench with his fourth personal foul, allowing Penncrest a window to get back into the game with an 8-0 run, capped by a Nolan Carroll triple that got them within four.

Doyle, who scored 14 points, led the charge in the fourth to get the Lions to within two at 43-41, a 16-6 run since Foster’s triple. But with Foster back in the game, Ridley closed the game by scoring 21 of the final 27 points, including nine from Ameer Staggs thanks to his work on the offensive glass.

A large part of the equation was Ridley’s defense, with its long and agile defenders preventing Penncrest from executing its screening, catch-and-shoot offense. They limited the Lions to just 6-for-18 from 3-point land, including 0-for-6 for Doyle, while they limited Carroll, Penncrest’s leading 3-point shooter, to just one attempt from the field in the first half.

“They get up and pressure the ball, but we knew coming into the game that off ball screens, they’re going to double and we can always look for the slip,’ point guard Hanna said. “It didn’t always work to our favor because they always had help defense on the back side, but I’ll give them credit. They did their jobs; we didn’t do ours.’

Part of that job was maintaining calm amid a crazy game in the middle of a crazy league. That job was certainly best performed Saturday by Foster and company.

“You have to be poised, have composure and just keep my teammates calm so that we can make the right plays and make it easier on ourselves,’ Foster said.

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