A.J. Nelson makes game-winning shot as Sto-Rox edges Apollo-Ridge

Friday, January 17, 2020 | 11:19 PM

Sto-Rox’s A.J. Nelson was well below his 16 point-per-game average Friday against Apollo-Ridge.

But Nelson’s put-back of a missed free throw with 8 seconds left in the game proved to be the difference as the Sto-Rox Vikings defeated the Apollo-Ridge Vikings, 62-60, in a key Section 1-2A matchup.

Apollo-Ridge, down by 11 twice in the fourth quarter, had cut its deficit to 60-59 on a basket by Klay Fitzroy with 13.4 seconds to go.

After Jamal Williams was fouled, his missed free throw came out to the middle of the key, where Nelson gathered the crucial rebound and flipped up the winning shot.

Keighton Reese was fouled tossing up a desperation shot from nearly 30 feet away with 1.3 left.

Malik Smith fouled out on the play and Sto-Rox coach Ryan Hughes failed to put in a substitute for Smith as Reese made his first shot to slice the Sto-Rox advantage to 62-60. The officials allowed the shot to count, and Hughes made his substitution.

Reese missed his second shot, then purposely missed the third in a futile attempt to see if a teammate could gather the rebound.

But the officials ruled Reese crossed the foul line and the ball was turned over to Sto-Rox.

“It’s fun to finally win one of those close games,” Hughes said. “We lost a bunch of them early in the year. It feels good now.”

The victory keeps Sto-Rox (8-6, 7-1) a game behind Springdale in the section race. The Dynamos will head to McKees Rocks on Tuesday night where a Sto-Rox victory could tie the race.

Springdale defeated Sto-Rox, 86-85, in overtime last month.

Nelson finished the game with eight points. Smith came off the bench to lead Sto-Rox with 23 points, eight rebounds and three steals — two of which resulted in dunks.

“He carried us the whole year,” Hughes said of Nelson. “The last two games he’s gotten in foul trouble, but I can always count on him to make a big play.”

Fitzroy led Apollo-Ridge (10-5, 5-3) with 20 points and six rebounds. After sitting out the last 3:15 of the first half with three fouls, Fitzroy sparked a comeback with eight points in the third period.

Reese hit a trio of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to keep Apollo-Ridge within striking distance.

“The problem is, you can’t get down by 11 against these guys. They’re too good,” said Apollo-Ridge coach Greg Fox. “Very, very proud of our kids for fighting back and giving us a chance to tie and, possibly win the game.”

After Nelson’s crucial basket, Apollo-Ridge got the ball to midcourt. But the officials ruled that Sto-Rox had called a timeout and Apollo-Ridge had to take the ball in bounds from the Sto-Rox baseline.

Said Fox: “We had a play designed ready to go. They called a timeout and I wanted my timeout back. They made a mistake and you’ve got to live with it.”

Reese finished with 19 points and Jake Fello added 12, including 4 of 4 from the foul line. Apollo-Ridge canned 16 of 20 foul shots.

Jamil Williams had 12 for Sto-Rox.

Sto-Rox’s bench outscored Apollo-Ridge’s, 30-0.

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