Apollo-Ridge girls basketball coach Jim Callipare couldn’t help but laugh a bit, shaking his head, a few minutes after emerging from a loud and happy locker room where his girls were celebrating a double-digit fourth-quarter comeback.
“I don’t know if we like a challenge or what,” he said.
For three quarters, the Vikings had an exercise in frustration similar to their first meeting with Knoch, but they put together a fourth quarter they will look back upon fondly if they make the postseason.
Apollo-Ridge scored 13 consecutive points in the fourth and rallied on its home court to beat Knoch, 43-36, in an important Section 1-4A game Monday night.
The win split the season series between the two teams, with Knoch winning the first meeting 45-29 on Jan. 3. It also put Apollo-Ridge (13-5, 6-5) and Knoch (8-10, 6-5) into a three-way tie for third place in the section standings with Greensburg Salem (10-8, 6-5).
Apollo-Ridge outscored Knoch, 19-4, in the fourth, including the 13-0 run that stretched over four minutes and turned a 10-point deficit into a 39-36 lead.
With standout guard Maddy Moore on the bench with four fouls, the Vikings switched to a pressing defense, started forcing turnovers and converted them into points.
Callipare said he would like to pressure more, but lack of depth and the threat of foul trouble forces him to pick his spots with their press.
“You get to that point in the game where it becomes now or never,” Callipare said. “As a coach you have to decide when to make your move. Same thing with Maddy Moore having four fouls. When you’re down six or eight, you might sit her and end up being down 13 or 15 when she’s on the bench. My assistants help me out a lot, but all the credit has to go to the girls for their heart, desire and willingness to win.”
Rylee Eaton got the rally started by making a pair of layups, the second coming off a steal and then Maddy Moore followed by draining a contested 3-pointer. Maddie Marks made a shot in close to cut the lead to one, and Eaton put the Vikings in front with a pair of free throws.
Moore, a Seton Hill recruit, had to sit out a few minutes in the fourth quarter with four fouls, but returned to score nine of her game-high 25 points in the final frame.
“We knew it was going to be a battle, so we kept grinding,” Moore said. “When we were down, we knew we could get back into it very easily. We just had to get our defense going and go from there. This was a big game, and we knew that going in, so it’s good that we pulled through.”
Moore hit four free throws, and Lauren Gamble added two more in the final minute. The Vikings hit their last eight free throws.
Prior to the comeback, Knoch held Apollo-Ridge to single digits in the second and third and led by as many as 11. The Knights frustrated the Vikings by forcing turnovers and playing defense that was reminiscent to the first meeting.
But field goals by Lauren Cihonski and Nevaeh Ewing were all the Knights could muster in the fourth.
“They went into a half-court trap, and we didn’t beat it. That’s it,” Knoch coach Chris Andreassi said. “Our team is all underclassmen. They’ll learn from this and move on.”
Ewing led the Knights with 21 points, 15 coming in the first half. Knoch will look to snap a three-game losing streak Thursday when it hosts Burrell.
“We’re still in the picture,” Andreassi said. “Our girls work hard. They worked hard tonight, but it just didn’t work out for them.”
While happy with his team’s resolve, Callipare would like to see his team can break a trend of digging a hole early on and is hopeful they can limit early game troubles down the stretch.
“I’ve never questioned their heart or desire, and I’m not surprised that we did come back,” Callipare said. “I’m a very lucky coach to have all of these kids. They’re all very coachable kids. We just have to quit making as many mental mistakes as we have been early in games. If we figure that out, it’ll be much easier on us going forward.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.