By PETER DiGIOVANNI
CALN - A common assumption is that you need good guard play to win high school basketball games. Saturday afternoon at a packed Ross Kershey Gymnasium at Coatesville High School in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs, West Chester Rustin received superlative guard play from senior Ethan Ridgeway.
The star point guard scored a game-high 24 points, dished out seven assists and grabbed five rebounds to push Rustin to a hard-fought 54-47 victory over District 3's Central York.
The win puts the Golden Knights into Wednesday's second round versus the winner of the Central Bucks West-Parkland game at a site to be determined."We knew Ethan was special when he was a freshman,' Rustin coach Keith Cochran said. "He can penetrate to the basket, shoot the ball, pass well and he has grown into one of the best guards in the state. I have not seen everybody, but he gets my vote. And now, as a senior, he's let me coach him more.'
Rustin (18-10) bolted out to a 17-11 lead after one period, and looked like they were going to have an easy time with the Panthers (24-5). But, the Knights struggled in the second. Central York rallied to tie the score late in the quarter, but Matt McCarrick drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 24-21 lead heading into the halftime break.
"We struggled as a team early in the year, but now everybody knows their roles and is doing their job,' McCarrick said. "This is the second state win for the school and it is pretty cool to be a part of it.'
McCarrick had 10 points in the game, second on the team behind Ridgeway.
Rustin opened a little daylight to start the second half. McCarrick's three pushed the advantage to 27-23. Central York scored five straight points to edge ahead, capped off by a pair of free throws by Charlie Gingrich (15 points).
Then Rustin slowly started to take control, Ridgeway, who could get to the rim whenever he wanted, drove the lane to score to make it a 29-28 game. A turnover, one of 12 on the day for the visitors led to another Ridgeway drive to the basket and a 31-28 lead.
Rustin had a 37-32 lead with less than a minute to go. They elected to burn some clock with Ridgeway having the ball in his hand most of that time. With less than 10 seconds to play, Ridgeway drove to the basket and fired a pass to Justin Ammermann, who drained a 3-pointer for a 40-32 cushion heading into the final period. Rustin scored 16 points in the third, making seven of 10 shots from the floor.
"Justin is another one of those guys who practices hard and now understands his role,' Cochran said. "That was a a real big shot for us.'
Central York did not quit, however. Behind the shooting of junior Sam Saxton, who had a team-high 16 points, the Panthers dug in and made another run. The Golden Knights helped matters by missing their first six shots of the period.The Panthers cut it to 46-44, when Ridgeway bailed out the Golden Knights again, scoring to make it 48-44 with 2:14 left.
Tyler Blake rebounded a miss and fed to Ridgeway, but this time, he was called for charging to give Central York another chance to get close.
They took advantage as Saxton drained a three to slice the lead to 48-47 with 1:20 left.
After two free throws from Ridgeway, Central York missed a three, but Jared Wagner grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled. But, he missed both free throws, Ridgeway was eventually fouled with 21 seconds left. He made both free throws to salt away the game and book Rustin's passage into the second round.
"Early on, I could tell my shot was not right,' Ridgeway said. "So, I just decided to go to the basket like coach said and hit my teammates when they were open. I like the ball in my hands, and today was a real good win for us.'Ahead of Wednesday's second-round contest, Cochran feels his team is peaking at the right time."The thing about us is that we keep getting better and better and this is the time of the year that you want to be hot.' he said.
West Cheste Rustin 54, Central York 47
CENTRAL YORK: Saxton 6 1-3 16, Gingrich 2 11-16 15, Clemens 2 0-0 6, Wagner 1 0-2 2, Falcri 1 0-0 2, Hartley 0 3-4 3, Sauers 1 1-3 3. Totals 13 16-24 47.
W.C. RUSTIN: Ridgeway 8 8-12 24, McCarrick 4 0-1 10, Ammermann 1 2-2 5, Okine 3 0-0 6, Blake 3 1-2 7, Halverson 1 0- 2, Chobany 0-0 0 0. Totals 20 11 17 54.Central York 11 10 11 15-47
W.C. Rustin 17 7 16 14-54
3-point goals: McCarrick 2, Ammermann, Saxton 3, Clemens 2.