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Experience down stretch lifts Rams

CLASS 4A: Ridgewood scores the final six points of the game to eliminate Central and move on.

By STEVE LEE, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2003

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Ultimately, the outcome of Thursday's game came down to experience.

No, not that of first-year Ridgewood coach Greg Bollinger, but his team's five straight trips to the regionals courtesy of five district titles.

"It's just a matter of having been there before," Bollinger said after a 43-37 win over Central.

Ridgewood (25-3) advances to the region semifinals against Ocala Vanguard, a winner over Gainesville. Last year, the Rams lost to Vanguard in the semifinals.

The experience showed when Ridgewood scored the last six point of the game to break a 37-all tie and win going away.

After Central's Sharesa Scott knotted the contest with a free throw that proved to be the Bears' final point, Ridgewood's Nina Bonaparte scored on a layup, Jamie Surmin hit a jumper from the left side and Jen Barrett made two free throws to account for the final margin.

The Bears (20-7) took an early lead in their first playoff appearance. Samantha Downing's 3-point shot, the game's first basket and first of her three treys, helped stake Central to a 10-4 lead at the first break.

A 9-1 run by Ridgewood, keyed by two Crystal Ayers baskets off steals, resulted in a 13-11 lead. Surmin's 3-pointer lifted the Rams to a 21-17 halftime lead.

Ayers scored a game-high 18 points, adding nine steals and five assists. Bonaparte chipped in with 10 points.

"I thought we handled their press extremely well tonight," Bollinger said. "Our inside game picked up in the second half."

Downing, who scored a team-high 14 points, hit a 3-pointer to give Central its last lead at 25-23. Ayers gave the Rams a lead twice on steals and easy layups.

"I thought we played hard the whole night," Bollinger said. "We could have shot the ball better."

Bollinger estimated his team could have won by at least 10 points had the Rams made more shots.

"It doesn't matter how many points you get, just as long as you win," he said. "Ten years from now I'm not going to remember the score. I'm going to remember we won."

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