Apollo-Ridge boys snap five-year playoff drought

Thursday, February 13, 2020 | 6:39 PM

Just last year, the Apollo-Ridge boys basketball team was on the verge of breaking a four-year playoff drought, but when it came down to the waning moments of the regular season, the Vikings barely missed.

They finished the season with the same Section 1-2A record as Springdale, but the Dynamos won both games of their regular season series by a combined five points. Due to that tiebreaker, Springdale earned the final playoff spot in the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs.

“Missing the playoffs by just that much last year, it hurt,” junior guard Jake Fello said.

From then on, the Vikings (16-6) vowed never to put themselves in that position again. So they went to work.

They ironed out all of the little mistakes over the offseason and came together as a team. After stitching together five win streaks this season, the Vikings find themselves headed for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“It shows that the offseason work is paying off,” Apollo-Ridge coach Greg Fox said. “We were so close last year, and we talked to the kids about not being in the same situation and being in the playoffs before the last couple of games. So I think last year helped in a way because we were able to build off of it.”

Looking back, the Vikings fulfilled their promise and put themselves in a position where they controlled their own destiny. They won six of their final seven games, which included wins over Riverview, Summit Academy and Winchester Thurston. They hit their peak at just the right time.

“We started to put all the little things together,” junior Klay Fitzroy said. “We fixed up all our mistakes and started doing all the little things right. That helped out a lot.”

While the late-season wins were crucial for playoff seeding, the Vikings also suffered two losses to section co-champions Springdale and Sto-Rox. The losses, which came by a combined four points, gave the Vikings a little bit of a confidence boost heading into the postseason.

“That showed us that we can compete with pretty much anyone,” Fello said.

The seventh-seeded Vikings now turn their attention toward No. 10 Brentwood, (17-5, 9-3), their first-round opponent at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Fox Chapel.

The Spartans are led by a group of seniors, including 5-foot-11 guard CJ Ziegler, 5-foot-8 guard Zach Keib and 6-foot-4 senior John Milcic. Junior guard Chase Rosing has also played a big role for the Section 2-2A runners-up.

“On film, they are a very good team,” Fox said. “They rotate nine kids, they play seven seniors, they are athletic, they have a very good guard play, and they have some size. I think we match up well with them.”

Apollo-Ridge’s last WPIAL playoff win came during the 2013-2014 season when they defeated California in a preliminary round game. On Saturday, they’ll look to earn another victory, and in order to do so, they said they just have to stick to what they know.

“We just need to play together, play as one team and limit the mistakes,” Fitzroy said.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@tribweb.com or via Twitter .


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