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Defense carries Rams to fourth straight title

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002

NEW PORT RICHEY -- No surprise, the best team in Pasco County is now the best team in Class 4A, District 8 -- but just two points better.

Mitchell put up a ferocious fight Saturday night before falling 39-37 to host Ridgewood for the third time this season. It was a defensive brawl from start to finish, but the Rams' defense was just that much better.

It had to be. Ridgewood overcame a horrid shooting night -- the Rams were five of 14 at the line -- to win the program's fourth consecutive district title and the fifth in school history.

Mitchell advances to the postseason for the first time in the program's two-year history.

"It was a tough game," Rams coach Gary Zimmerman said. "They threw some defenses at us that we weren't prepared for."

Which kept the score far too close for Ridgewood's comfort. The Mustangs took a 3-0 lead in the first three minutes before falling behind for good -- but never by much.

The Rams' lead was as little as one point midway through the second quarter and as great as seven points thanks to Crystal Ayers' basket with 3 minutes, 22 seconds left in the game.

Lacey Arens' layup and free throw cut that lead to 35-33 with 37 seconds left. But Ridgewood shook off its doldrums at the line late, sinking four of six free throws in the closing seconds.

Mitchell's Moira Gustin sank the last shot of the night to cut the lead to 39-37 at the buzzer.

"I'm pleased," Mustangs coach Steve Knobl said. "We had a good defensive effort. I think we surprised them with some of the traps we were working on."

Rachel Rauber's 16 points led the Rams, and Nina Bonaparte scored 10. Arens led the Mustangs with 16 and Gustin had 11.

Ridgewood (24-5) hosts 4A-7 runner-up Lecanto (9-21) in Thursday's regional quarterfinals, while Mitchell (20-8) travels to 4A-7 champion Leesburg (21-2).

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