At two different times, it seemed obvious that both teams were going to pull away, that the rest of the game would be a mere formality.
The visiting Ridgefield Spudders appeared to be routing the home Woodland Beavers, scoring 10 of the first 12 points in the 2A GSHL boys basketball game Tuesday night. Then Woodland used an 11-0 run to take control while Ridgefield’s offense disappeared, suggesting the hosts would pull away.
But the Spudders chipped away, the Beavers struggled while its fast-paced offense tried to slow down, and Ridgefield somehow pulled out a 40-39 win on a Brandon Kent layup with three seconds left, a testament to Yogi Berra’s famous fat lady quote.
“Any time you lose it’s frustrating,” Beavers coach Jesse Buck said. “The kids fought hard. They played hard enough to win. Little thing here or there, missed layup here or there. Not taking anything away from Ridgefield. Yeah, it’s frustrating, but I’m proud of their effort. We’ll come back ready.”
Early on, it appeared the Spudder offense was humming.
Ridgefield jumped to a quick 12-5 lead. Its shots fell. Its plays worked. It quickly quieted the Woodland crowd.
But the Beavers, to their credit, kept throwing themselves into the brick wall, knowing, hoping, at least, it might crack.
And it did.
Woodland scored the last four points of the first quarter, then scored the first 11 of the second period. It was a 14-0 run that lasted seven minutes of game time that took a 12-5 count in favor of Ridgefield and flipped it to a 19-12 advantage for Woodland.
It wasn’t easy for the Beavers.
Ridgefield ran a soft three-quarter court press. It wasn’t an aggressive press. It’s not designed to pressure ball-handlers and speed them up and force hasty bad decisions. It’s meant to make the guards think, to find the right pass, to be patient while knowing the officials are counting to 10 and defenders are lurking, trying to bait them into a turnover down court.
Woodland handled it well, calmly working the ball around and making the right pass, finding the inevitable hole in what is essentially a 75-foot-long zone defense.
It helped that Isaiah Flanagan took over. During the 11-0 initial spurt in the second quarter, Flanagn had 7 points. They came at the line and through drives or pullups. Outside of a Brady Burns 3 and a pair of Trey Hanson free throws, Flanagan was the offense.
The other end of the floor was fortunate, but by design.
The talented Spudder senior Stefan Vossenkuhl kept settling for 3s, essentially wasting possesions and giving Woodland chances to run and not have to face the Ridgefield soft press.
Vossenkuhl did not hit a single 3 all night, going 0-of-8, and Ridgefield as a team went just 2-19 from deep on the night.
Woodland held Ridgefield scoreless for the entirely of nearly seven minutes of game time, even as the Spudders worked open looks and took good shots.
But a pair of Vossenkuhl free throws with 2:22 left in the second quarter snapped the Spudders out of their scoreless spell, then Carson Knight and the skilled left-handed senior added another basket to end the half 24-18 in favor of Woodland.
On the back of Flanagan, Woodland extended its lead to 13 early in the third quarter. The senior Beaver used a couple baskets and a three-point play, giving Woodland a 31-18 lead that seemed insurmountable, especially considering Ridgefield’s recent offensive woes.
In fact, Flanagan was the only Beaver to score in the third quarter. Woodland outscored Ridgefield 11-9 in the penultimate period and Flanagan had all 11. The quarter finished with Woodland nursing a 35-27 advantage. It seemed safe. But it weirdly didn’t feel that way. Ridgefield was too good not to make it interesting.
And sure enough, it became interesting.
Woodland tried to slow the pace, going against its preferences. It’s hard for an up-tempo basketball team to slow it down. It’s hard to ignore quick shots and work the shot clock. It almost inevitably creates more turnovers, more rushed shots at the end of the shot clock, more standing around and watching its best player try to make something out of nothing. And the opponent knows it, welcomes it.
“I think, whether you like to admit it or not, once you change the tempo it changes your offense,” Flanagan said. “Sometimes it does affect us offensively, like scoring-wise.”
“It’s a tough thing when you’re not hitting and finishing, but at the same time you have to protect the lead,” Buck added. “That’s me as much as anything. But we’ve gotta learn and grow, learn how to play with a lead, learn how to be aggressive, but on our terms. For the most part, we struggled with it. Ridgefield’s intensity got greater as the second half went on. Credit to them. They didn’t give us any looks and we couldn’t convert when it came down to it.”
Woodland traded turnovers — sometimes Ridgefield steals, sometimes shot clock violations, sometimes shots that had no shot of falling — for Spudder buckets throughout the final period.
The Beaver lead got trimmed to six, then five, then, after a Knight putback, was at one at 37-36. James Corey was dominant, grabbing offensive rebounds and manhandling the Beavers frontcourt members.
He finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, four of which came on the offensive end and all came in the second half.
“(Ridgefield) offensive rebounding got us in the second half,” Buck said. “They had eight offensive boards in the second half. That was a big deal down the stretch.”
“I think it came down to rebounds, offensive rebounds,” Flanagan added. “I felt like we locked ‘em up on D, and they’d get that last offensive rebound. The big man, James Corey, would grab it, lay it up. So second chance was huge for them.”
It was Corey who gave Ridgefield its first lead since the second quarter at 39-38 with 43.1 seconds to go.
At the other end, Ridgefield’s defensive pressure got a little too eager, and Flanagan drew a foul, giving him a one-and-one opportunity. He made both free throws — his 21st and 22nd points — giving Woodland a 40-38 lead with 14.2 seconds left.
But it didn’t last. Ridgefield ran a set that feature Kent flashing across the lane. Woodland lost track of him and his layup rolled in with three seconds left. Woodland called timeout, Flanagan dribbled off his foot and out of bounds at midcourt, and a late foul wasn’t enough to salvage anything.
It’s not a catastrophic defeat, though, even as it hurts.
Flanagan and teammates were smiling and joking and laughing after the game. Buck said that group has been even-keeled all season, never getting too high or too low after wins or losses. Tuesday night is no different, he said, and they’ll return to practice ready to move on to the next thing. Flanagan agreed.
“The culture and the attitude is great,” the senior guard said. “We’re keeping our heads up and we’re ready for the next game. We’re looking for the next one and we’re gonna be ready for it.”
Woodland (7-7. 2-4) visits R.A. Long on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. meeting.
Ridgefield 40, Woodland 39
RIDGEFIELD — James Corey 17, Josh Mansur 9, Stefan Vossenkuhl 8, Carson Knight 4, Brandon Kent 2, Tyler Poorman, Nick Jenkins, Cole Fulton, Luke Price.
WOODLAND — Isaiah Flanagan 22, Brady Burns 9, Trey Hanson 4, Isaac Hall 2, Trace Logan 1, Cole Logan, Easton Ortega.
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