FOLSOM– Playing against Ridley is a matter of picking one’s poison.
The ultra-athletic Green Raiders have four players who can handle the ball or shoot from the outside, play a suffocating brand of on-ball defense, and are directed by a
lightning-quick point guard who can score or distribute. Sticking with a zone defense, Great Valley chose Ridley’s perimeter shooting — and the Patriots had no antidote for it.
Julian Wing scored 18 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, making all five of his 3-pointers to help the No. 9 Green Raiders advance to the District 1-AAAA quarterfinals and clinch a PIAA berth with a 57-40 victory over No. 25 Great Valley.
Ridley, which will meet the winner of Conestoga and Academy Park on Friday, went 9-of-13 from beyond the arc and 14-of-17 from the line in a ruthlessly efficient performance that finally took its toll on the resilient Patriots, who will take on the loser of that contest in the playback rounds.
“We were happy with what we did,’ said Great Valley coach Paul Girone, who has guided the Patriots to the brink of a state berth despite a rash of injuries throughout the season. “They were what we expected. I mean, they beat the top seed in the district. That’s saying something. Tonight we saw why they did that.’
Coming in on a four-game winning streak, including a thoroughly impressive triumph over top-seeded Conestoga in the Central League championship, Ridley (21-5) rode the electric atmosphere provided by a sea of toga-clad students to an early 8-0 lead, with floor general Brett Foster getting to the rack for back-to-back buckets and Ameer Staggs (11 points) scoring inside twice.
Great Valley (14-10), fresh off an upset of No. 8 Central Bucks West in the opening round, clawed its way back with six straight points before taking the lead at 15-14 on a strong take by senior center Ryan Bucholz midway through the second quarter.
But Ryan Bollinger kick-started a 9-0 burst with a 3-pointer on the next possession and Ridley never trailed again.
“In the first half when we went ahead, that’s when we have to be at our best with the ball, Girone said. “But we took a couple of bad shots and, boom, they made us pay.’
With Ridley seemingly ready to break the game open after Wing nailed triples on consecutive possessions to forge a 34-24 bulge with three minutes to play in the third, the Patriots refused to lie down. Senior guard Doug Strang, who missed the majority of the season, sparked a 7-0 spurt by banking in a long jumper. Junior forward Will Buzan followed with a tough drive and senior point guard Mark Miller buried a 3-pointer from straight on to cut the Ridley lead down to 34-31 with a minute to play in the quarter. Like most of the night, however, Wing made sure it got no closer.
The junior drained a trey on the ensuing possession, and Foster made one a minute into the fourth to push the lead back to nine. Strang gave the visitors life with a three-point play, but Wing hit another long ball from the right wing to start a game-clinching 9-0 run. Wing followed a Nick Czechowicz jumper with a bucket inside, and Foster hit two free throws to make it 49-34 with 4:02 to play.
“Every little run we made in the third quarter, (Wing) was there,’ Girone said. “I mean, he was 5-for-5? Terrific. He can shoot it from anywhere.’
Foster made all six of his foul shots in the final four minutes to finish with 19 points, while Wing hit a couple and capped the scoring by putting back his own miss (one of his eight rebounds), setting off a wild celebration as the Green Raiders returned to the PIAA tournament for the second time in three years. Winners of five straight, including its first league title since 2008, Ridley is on a tear at the perfect time.
“The obvious is their outside shooting, but I was most impressed with how they play defense,’ said Girone, whose team committed 12 turnovers and struggled to find a rhythm on offense. “We had a tough time getting guys open in our sets.
“They’re very good. They have all the ingredients. They don’t have a big center, but they’re so athletic that they don’t need one.’
Miller paced Great Valley with 12 points, while Strang and Bucholz (eight rebounds, three blocks) added eight apiece and Buzan chipped in six points, five rebounds, and three assists. With former star Mikal Bridges — currently redshirting at Villanova — in attendance, the Patriots were unable to secure their first state spot since 2013, when Bridges led them to the quarterfinals. Still, the fact that Great Valley got this close is remarkable. Girone’s squad has been without injured starter Geoff Rice all season, Miller was at one time hobbled with an ankle injury, and Bucholz has been
unable to practice with back problems.
“As challenging as it has been, it has been a lot of fun,’ Girone said. “These guys have been great. We’ve had leadership, and we took the challenge when guys went down. We’ve played a lot of good games and been undermanned in a lot of them, but that’s okay — it’s a learning experience. I think our kids will learn how to persevere in life.’
They certainly have on the court — and the Patriots are not done yet.