BASKING RIDGE, NJ -- The Ridge boys basketball team has come a long way from a 2-5 start.
With underclass guards Gavin Kreitz and Nick Losada playing like veterans oblivious to playoff pressure, eighth-seeded Ridge recovered from a poor shooting first half to rally for a 53-44 victory over ninth-seeded Franklin in the first round of the Somerset County Tournament Saturday afternoon.
Ridge (15-7) has now won eight in a row and 13 of its last 15 games. One of the two losses in that stretch came against Rutgers Prep, the top seed in this tournament and the team that awaits Ridge in the quarterfinal round Tuesday in Somerset. Rutgers Prep is 22-1, but, other than the Argonauts, there are few teams in the county playing any better than Ridge over the last five weeks.
Kreitz, a sophomore, scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half and sank all 11 of his free throws, and Losada, a freshman, was at the forefront of a 13-3 Ridge spurt that ended the third quarter, scoring six of his 10 points in that run.
Although just a 10th-grader, Kreitz is in his second season as a starter for Ridge and is the Red Devils' leading scorer with close to 15 points per game. But Losada, who came off the bench Saturday, also played with the savvy of a longtime varsity fixture.
"Nick is a freshman who has played major minutes for us," Ridge head coach Brian Feath said. "He is quick and fearless and he makes plays at both ends of the floor. He and Gavin are both very similar, except that one's left-handed (Losada) and the other's right-handed. They are both competitors who are fearless, they love being on the big stage and they want the ball in their hands."
Franklin (11-13) led by two at the end of the first quarter and by four at the half. Both teams got after it defensively in the opening half, and neither squad even shot 30 percent in the first 16 minutes. In the third quarter, the visiting Warriors extended their lead to 27-21 midway through the period, and Ridge starting center Jayden Hylton--also a sophomore--went to the bench with his third foul.
A driving layup by Easton Smith sparked Ridge on a 13-3 run to overtake Franklin by the end of the quarter. Losada finished a fastbreak with a layup, then Kreitz took a pass from Nate Herrera and buried a 3-pointer with 3:00 left in the quarter to give Ridge a 28-27 lead.
After Franklin went back ahead, 30-28, on a 3-pointer, Losada came right back and drove for a basket to tie the game, 30-30. Then Losada went up strong on an assertive move along the baseline for a basket and a 32-30 lead. Two free throws by Kreitz with 48 seconds left gave the Red Devils a 34-30 lead.
After hitting just five of 17 field-goal attempts in the first half, Ridge recovered to sink six of 12 in the third quarter.
"We were getting killed on the glass in the first half, and Franklin was drawing fouls and putting us in a tough spot," Feath said.
Ridge switched from a man-to-man defense to a zone in the second quarter. The third quarter was the only one in which Franklin shot well. The Warriors finished 16-for-43 from the field, as Ridge limited yet another opponent to fewer than 45 points in a game.
In the fourth quarter, Franklin got as close as 36-35, but Kreitz knocked down a '3' with 4:28 left to ignite an 8-2 run that put the Red Devils in command. Not only did Ridge hit 12 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter, but Feath's team also protected its lead by skillfully executing its halfcourt delay game with few mistakes against Franklin's running, jumping, trapping efforts.
"We have kids out there who are not scared, not looking to get rid of the ball, and not playing on their heels," Feath said.
Two players from each team fouled out. Before he picked up his fifth foul, Hylton contributed 12 rebounds for Ridge even though he played less than 20 minutes. Herrera also played a strong floor game before fouling out, finishing with eight points and three assists.