BASKING RIDGE, NJ -- In a January game contested with all the ferocity of a late-February tournament showdown, the Ridge boys basketball team held Immaculata to two points over the final five minutes and rallied for a 51-46 victory before a raucous home crowd Tuesday night.
Sophomore guard Gavin Kreitz came off the bench to score 16 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, when Ridge (6-5) finished the game on a 9-2 run to erase a 44-40 deficit.
Sophomore center Jayden Hylton scored 16 points and hauled down 11 rebounds for the Red Devils, and junior swingman Jake Schapiro had 13 points, including five free throws in seven attempts over the final 4:33.
Bodies crashed to the floor with frequency and both teams went at each other with palpable intensity in this rivalry game, Immaculata had beaten Ridge, 57-54, on opening night. Ridge wanted this one bad.
"This is a huge win for us. Our spirits are up," said Kreitz, who has been coming off the bench since beginning the season sidelined with a back injury that's now resolved. "We feel great. Winning this game is like getting the greatest Christmas present ever."
With Ridge trailing, 37-33, early in the fourth quarter, the Red Devils put up seven straight points on a three-point play and a four-point play. Easton Smith turned a pass from Schapiro into a layup plus a foul, then hit the free throw. Moments later, Kreitz hit a three-point shot from the right side of the arc while drawing contact and then sinking a free throw with 6:41 left to give Ridge a 40-37 lead.
But Immaculata (9-3) then ripped off its own 7-0 run on a three-pointer, two foul shots and a transition layup to take a 44-40 lead.
Schapiro, who handed out four assists to go with his 13 points, sank two foul shots with 4:33 left, then another with 3:55 left to bring Ridge within one, 44-43. With 2:40 left, Kreitz fearlessly drained a pull-up three-pointer for a 46-44 Ridge lead. With 1:01 left and Ridge still leading by two, Kreitz turned the corner on his defender at the top of the key and drove down the lane for a layup and a 48-44 Ridge lead.
Victory wasn't assured for Ridge, though, until the final five seconds. Schapiro went to the line with :05 left and Ridge leading, 49-48. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Hylton grabbed the offensive rebound and Schapiro ended up back at the foul line with 0.9 seconds left, and this time he calmly swished them both.
"I just had to get it; I had to make sure I got that rebound," said Hylton, who controlled the glass in the first half with eight rebounds. "This game, there was a physicality to it. This win can do a lot for us. I was just trying to keep my hands up and don't foul."
Schapiro was coming off a 17-point game that earned him MVP honors in an MLK Day showcase victory over Asbury Park, 72-22, the day before in Long Branch. He contributed across the board against Immaculata, as well.
"Jake is a junior and first-year varsity player who may not do any one thing that's eye-raising, but across the board he does everything well and he puts numbers up," Ridge head coach Brian Feath said. "He's a good teammate and he's having a good season."
In the first half, Ridge trailed, 16-11, in the second quarter before closing out the second quarter with an 11-0 run to take a 22-16 halftime lead. Kreitz had seven points and Hylton four, while senior point guard Nate Herrera passed for two of his team-high six assists in that run.
"Gavin missed the first month, including our scrimmages, and his first few games he was limited," Feath said. "He is just fearless. He's tough as nails, and he wants to be great. And he practices to be great. He wants the ball in crunch time."
On Jan. 9, Ridge was 2-5, but the Red Devils have won four in a row since then.
"Hey, our backs were to the wall just a week and a half ago," Feath said. "We just needed to start winning games. Now we're 6-5. These guys really care, and they are friends and they care about each other. This is a special group here. They are great kids, and they're coachable."