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Apollo-Ridge girls focused on stretch run after last season’s collapse

Michael Love
| Thursday, January 25, 2018 12:11 a.m.
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Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Apollo-Ridge’s Elizabeth Penrose (14) attempts to drive around Freeport’s Asti Barstensky (3) in the first half at Freeport High School on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017.
VNDARFreep1121217
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Apollo-Ridge’s Elizabeth Penrose (14) attempts to drive around Freeport’s Asti Barstensky (3) in the first half at Freeport High School on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017.

Last season’s stretch run was anything but ideal for the Apollo-Ridge girls basketball team.

The Vikings were right in the playoff mix through 12 games before closing out the campaign with 10 straight losses, including seven consecutive in section.

The current squad sits in a playoff spot at 4-4 in Section 3-3A — tied for third place — with four section games remaining. The coaches and players share a same sense of optimism that things will be different this time around and they have what it takes to finish off their goal of returning to the WPIAL postseason.

“We have to come ready to play every game and focus on one game at a time,” said junior Maddy Moore, who is averaging 13.5 points and a team-best 4.7 assists.

“If we come ready to play, we can beat anyone. We have to stay focused and positive that we can do it.”

Injury and other issues have taken starters off the court recently, but Callipare said he’s excited to see his team — still young with only one senior — return to full strength for the stretch run.

“Other young players got a chance to grow with more minutes,” he said.

“We’re still finding our identity. We’re playing a lot of people and are nine or 10 deep. We have three freshmen playing big roles in Madison Marks, Emily Bonelli and Morgan Gamble. Some of the girls still are working to develop their roles.”

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Apollo-Ridge (8-7) tested its mettle Wednesday in a nonsection battle against a St. Joseph team in a similar fight for a WPIAL playoff spot. The Vikings scored a 63-49 win behind 35 points from senior forward Megan Ost.

Marks, back on the court after missing several games with an injury, added a season-best 12 points off the bench, upping her average to 4.1.

Apollo Ridge begins the stretch run in section play Thursday at Seton LaSalle in a rematch of a 54-52 victory from Dec. 21.

The Vikings host Avonworth on Monday and will seek revenge for a 51-47 setback earlier this month.

“Just like us, they (Seton LaSalle and Avonworth) have gotten better over the last half of the season,” said Ost, the team leader in points (16.1) and rebounds (9.9).

“We definitely need to up our game to overcome both teams.”

Avonworth sits in second place in the section at 5-2. The Antelopes were upended by 2-6 Steel Valley, 57-47, on Monday.

Seton La Salle joins Apollo-Ridge at 4-4 in the section, and Shady Side Academy is one game behind in fifth at 3-5.

Everyone is looking up at Bishop Canevin, which leads the section at 8-0.

“Our section is brutal, from the tough games to the amount of travel,” Callipare said. “We’ve had bus rides to Canevin and Carlynton that took two hours with all the traffic through the city. But we have to step up and overcome that.”

Apollo-Ridge scored an 18-point victory over Carlynton on Dec. 15, but the host Cougars returned the favor Jan. 18 with a 55-32 triumph for their first section win.

“Carlynton didn’t do anything different from the first game,” Callipare said. “We just didn’t play well. This section is so unpredictable. You have to come ready to play each night.”

But the Vikings shook off the loss to Carlynton with a 52-46 win over Steel Valley the next night.

On Monday, Apollo-Ridge trailed Shady Side Academy by four heading into the fourth quarter, but it used a 17-7 advantage over the final eight minutes to earn a 39-33 victory.

Moore tallied a game-best 18 points in the win.

“Don’t give up is our mentality,” Ost said. “We’re just worried about the next game and not worried about a loss. We just focus on what we can do to improve our game.”

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Junior Liz Penrose (5.3 ppg.), Gamble (4.6) and sophomore Riley Eaton (4.1) also have shown the ability to score. Penrose tallied 11 in the win over Seton LaSalle, while Gamble scored nine.

Eaton had a season-best nine points in a holiday victory over Saltsburg from District 6.

Ost is closing in on a career milestone, as she has 904 points through Wednesday’s game with St. Joseph.

Moore is close to the school record for 3-pointers in a single season. She has 31 for the season. The record is 35 set by Alexis Orlowski in 2012.

“We have a tough schedule left,” Callipare said. “Can we make the playoffs? Yes. Will we do it? We’ll have to wait and see.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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