Foster has finishing touch for Ridley

RIDLEY TWP. — His team’s double-digit fourth quarter lead had been winnowed to four, and a spirited and a relentless West Chester Rustin squad was threatening to cut the deficit even further with a little over three minutes remaining in the game.

But just when Friday’s District One Class AAAA opening-round skirmish appeared to be slipping from Ridley’s grasp — and the rowdy, electric green-clad Sixth Man student section had quieted to a church whisper — Brett Foster stepped up once again to ensure the Green Raiders’ improbable postseason run would continue.

Foster, the hero of Monday night’s 70-64 upset of Conestoga for the Central League title, stepped to the line and buried a pair of free throws to extend the advantage back to six and ignited a 14-2 spree down the stretch that enabled Ridley to finish off Rustin, 68-55.

The ninth-seeded Green Raiders (20-5) will get another home game Tuesday, thanks to No. 25 Great Valley’s 56-49 upset of eighth-seeded Central Bucks West.

“We knew the game was never in control until the end,’ Foster said. “I have to be aggressive for my team and I have to maintain my composure when we need to control the ball or make foul shots at the end.’

Foster drained 12 of 13 attempts from the stripe in finishing with gam- highs of 21 points and six assists. And after the reed-thin junior calmed the home crowd’s nerves with his foul shots, Foster’s teammates seemed to take the cue to end the suspense.

Ameer Staggs, who was a constant force on the glass throughout the game, capped his 16-point, 11-rebound performance with a stirring sequence of his own at the foul line with 2 minutes, 42 seconds left. The senior forward made one free throw and missed the second, but snared his eighth offensive board, scored the putback and sank the free throw to push the lead back to 10.

Foster, Staggs, Julian Wing and Nick Czechowicz combined to go 10-for-10 from the line over the final 2:10, even as the Golden Knights (12-11) jumped passing lanes and pressured the ball in every corner of the court.

Ridley coach Mike Snyder liked what he saw of his players performing down the stretch.

“The clutch foul shooting really helped us, and when we got into the double bonus it was a huge help because it allowed our guys to relax at the line,’ Snyder said.

The game started out as entertaining as a taffy pull, with the man-to-man defense by both sides dictating the pace and refs’ whistles incessantly halting play as Ridley struggled to take a 10-6 lead after one quarter and a 27-17 edge at the half.

“We didn’t get good ball movement’ in the first half, Snyder said. “The ball got stuck too much and we had too many plays wind up with our guys going one-on-one. I knew (Rustin) was a playoff-experienced team from last year and that they would give us their best shot.

“It was a hectic game, it certainly wasn’t the prettiest game,’ Snyder continued, “but at this point I don’t care how we win.’

No. 24 seed Rustin was feisty, as evidenced by the three Golden Knights that fouled out and the team’s 29 personal fouls. While coach Keith Cochran was able to keep his cool, the wave of calls against the visitors caused one adult Rustin fan to be physically removed from the gym by a police officer late in the third quarter.

Rustin “was very physical, they made a comeback, they went all out … as they should,’ Foster said. “Even when we went up double digits I knew the game was never out of reach.’

Czechowicz agreed.

“Not at any point did I think we had it totally under control,’ the senior guard said. “The foul shots at the end helped, but it wasn’t until we started moving the ball in the third quarter that our offense really clicked.’

After Rustin pulled within 30-25 early in the second half, Snyder called timeout. When play resumed, Ryan Bollinger hit consecutive 3-pointers off some crisp passes, and the Green Raiders responded with an 11-2 spree.

In the end, after withstanding multiple runs by the Golden Knights, Ridley saw each of its starters contribute double-figure scoring.

Bollinger netted all of his 11 points in the second half, including three treys, while Czechowicz was a factor from the opening tap, totaling 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal. Wing was particularly clutch at the end, going 6-for-6 from the foul line in scoring 10 points.

“We know this one wasn’t pretty,’ Foster said, “but it feels good because now we’re one of the 16 teams still standing. All we want is to keep winning, by any means, and keep moving on to the district finals.’

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