Apollo-Ridge boys basketball looks to take one more step forward

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Monday, November 18, 2019 | 5:03 PM


The Apollo-Ridge boys basketball team made a leap back to prominence last year, improving by seven wins, both overall and in section play, from the year before.

The Vikings were in the playoff mix until the final week of the regular season. But a pair of section losses, including one by three points to rival Springdale, left them on the outside looking in. The Dynamos earned the final spot from Section 1-2A on a tiebreaker.

But with the return of its top three leading scorers, and other key components ready to make their mark, Apollo-Ridge hopes to continue up the ladder of success and take the next step back into the postseason for the first time since 2015.

“We were nowhere close to the playoffs two years ago,” junior guard/forward Klay Fitzroy said. “Last year, we came out with the mentality of playing as hard as we could, knowing we could win. We were able to show all the other teams that we could compete. We are pretty confident coming into the season that we can do even better.”

Apollo-Ridge won eight section games last year, three more than the three previous seasons combined. Included were victories over playoff-bound Sto-Rox and Summit Academy in a five-game section win streak that thrust the Vikings into the postseason picture.

“They came so close to achieving one of their goals, and it hurt when they fell short,” Vikings head coach Greg Fox said. “I’m sure it carried over to the offseason with some of these kids. They don’t want to feel that pain again. At the same time, they took a lot of momentum from what they were able to do overall, including winning a lot of close games and a gaining a lot of confidence. ”

While looking forward, Fox also reflected on the graduation loss of starters Bobby Mangan and Brad Milko, who combined for 10 points and nine rebounds a game.

“Bobby and Brad definitely will be missed,” Fox said. “They were a huge part in helping bring the program back in the right direction. They both were blue-collar kids who worked their tails off. We have big shoes to fill.”

Fox said the offseason, including work in summer league and camps and open gyms in the fall, was key to finding the right combination of players to form this year’s lineup and rotation.

“It was exciting to see players step up and try to fill those roles,” Fox said.

Several team members who also played on the playoff-qualifying football squad took a couple of weeks to rest after the end of the season, and Fox said they were ready to go as preseason practices kicked off Monday.

“These early practices are so crucial as we’re still trying to figure out the rotation and where some of these kids will fit in,” Fox said. “We have some nice depth.”

Junior Keighton Reese led the team in scoring last year at 16.3 points a game. A majority of those points came from behind the arc, as he set a school record for most 3-pointers in a season (80). He also tied the school record with the most 3-pointers in a game (10).

Fitzroy, at 6-foot-4, averaged 12 points, 11 rebounds and 4.5 assists, and junior Jake Fello added 10.2 points a contest.

Fox said 5-11 junior guard Dom Reiter is a leading candidate to take one of the available starting spots with competition continuing for the fifth spot.

Expected to be in the mix for starting time or minutes off the bench include junior guards Zach Hreha and Zander Garrone, junior forward Braden Astolos, sophomore forwards Greg Klingensmith and Gavin McCall and sophomore guard Wryder Frickanisce. Klingensmith and McCall are 6-5 and 6-4, respectively.

“Depending on which route we want to go, we definitely have options this year,” Fox said. “We didn’t have many options last year as far as height. We have some big kids right now.”

“With the players we have, we can run up and down the floor on teams, and we can also play a style where we slow the game down,” Fitzroy said. “It helps us match up with a lot of the teams we’re playing.”

Apollo-Ridge scrimmages at Derry on Nov. 26 and at home against Burrell on Dec. 6 before opening at the Leechburg Tip-Off Tournament on Dec. 6.

The Vikings open section play Dec. 13 at Sto-Rox.

“The section should be super competitive from top to bottom, just like last year,” Fox said. “Anybody can beat anybody. You’re going to see a lot of close games with a lot of parity. Every game is so meaningful.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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