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Celebration can wait, Anders' Rams still busy

BOYS CLASS 4A, DISTRICT 8: The Ridgewood coach wins 400th game and will face Land O'Lakes in final.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 20, 2003

NEW PORT RICHEY -- When the long-awaited moment came, it arrived without fanfare, without applause, without even a hint of acknowledgement.

Ridgewood coach Gary Anders, the dean of Pasco County coaches, won his 400th game in Wednesday night's semifinal.

Yet after his team's 60-45 victory over Gulf there were plenty of congratulatory handshakes, but not a hint of revelry.

"I see no need," said Anders, who is 400-240 overall. "It's all about timing. I've got other things (to worry about)."

Namely, winning the Rams' third district crown. Top seed Ridgewood (25-2), the fourth-ranked team in Class 4A, will meet No. 2 Land O'Lakes (15-10) in Saturday's district championship at River Ridge at 7:30 p.m.

Land O'Lakes won in a 66-41 rout of No. 3 Mitchell (18-9) in the earlier semifinal.

Wednesday's late semifinal was another milestone of sorts: the last head-to-head duel for two of the county's top point guards, the Rams' Chris Halkitis versus the Bucs' Joe Phillips.

"I think they have a lot of mutual respect," Anders said.

Playing in his last game in the green and white, Phillips was all No. 4 Gulf (14-13) had as the senior scored 30 and dropped six 3-pointers. He hit numerous key shots throughout the first half to keep the Bucs within reach, including a coast-to-coast layup in the last seven seconds of the first half to trim Ridgewood's lead to 27-26.

"They executed pretty well," Anders said. "They controlled the tempo, they had it down to a snail's pace. I wasn't disappointed too much in our defense, but I didn't like the fact that we weren't attacking the basket off transition."

Halkitis and his teammates did just that in the second half while holding the Bucs to three points in the third. Halkitis scored 22 -- including three 3-pointers -- and had eight assists and six rebounds. Andrew Reed chipped in 16 points and 12 rebounds and Matt Mirabella had 10 points as the Rams took control in the third with a 16-3 run.

Ridgewood has not won a district title since 1997, while Land O'Lakes did it in 2000.

The Gators were led by Drew Weatherford's 16 points, and Logan Payne and A.J. Brown had 11 apiece to lead their team back to the playoffs after a year hiatus.

Land O'Lakes won handily despite losing point guard Brett Ruvolo to a freak accident at halftime. Ruvolo was jumping up and down while exiting the court, hit his head on a door jam and fell to the floor. His parents took him to Morton Plant North Bay Hospital for stitches.

"Darryl Nelson stepped in and did a good job," Gators coach Dave Puhalski said of Ruvolo's replacement. "We rotated Darryl and Gio (Benedetto) in at the point. They did a good job, and Drew Weatherford, of course, he was his usual self tonight. He made a lot of big shots, he played a lot of defense and pulled down a lot of rebounds."

Seniors Kyle Cregan and Jason Weaver had 10 apiece in their last game for Mitchell.

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