Fishermen caught by Ridgefield

<I>KEVIN HEIMBIGNER photo</I><BR>Tommy Inserra drives to the hoop during the Fishermen's final game of the season against Trico League champion Ridgefield. Inserra had 11 points in the Fishermen's loss, which eliminated them from further postseason play.

Season ends on 53-48 loss to league rival at District IV

CHEHALIS - A pair of Fishermen dry spells on offense proved pivotal in a fiercely-contested District IV loser-out game at Chehalis Friday as Ridgefield downed Ilwaco 53-48.

A four-minute scoring drought in the third period and only converting two of a possible eight foul shots in another four-minute stretch in the final frame cost the Fishermen a trip to state and frustrated a courageous defensive effort by Ilwaco.

"We have bigger hearts, and they have more talent," coach Matt Blair said with emotionally charged pride following the 32-minute battle with the Spudders.

The Fishermen played arguably their finest half of the season in the biggest game of the year and then got even better to begin the third period, building a 31-26 advantage. Then, Trico-champion Ridgefield went on a 12-2 run and outscored Ilwaco 17-8 over the next 12 minutes to seal the Fishermen's fate.

Thursday, Blair had his seniors challenge the underclassmen in a relay to cap off practice. He gave the younger guys a substantial head start, but the seniors won going away. Against the Spudders, seniors Ryan Cadwell, Tony Crete, Ryan Gray, Tommy Inserra, Rocky Mirelez and Shane Padgett gave everything they had, but this time they could not catch their bigger, stronger and quicker foe.

Padgett scored the first 5 points of the game on a jumper and a trey. Cadwell forced a steal and scored on the ensuing drive and Inserra made a nifty move inside to put the Fishermen up 9-8. After Ridgefield's ultra-quick shooting guards Drew Bleth and Jonny Peru scored all 13 of their first period points, Padgett swished another three with two ticks left on the clock to close to within 13-12.

In the second quarter, Inserra gave the Fishermen the lead with another bucket in the paint, one of nine lead changes in the fray. Cadwell passed for assists to Padgett and Gray. When he rattled in a driving lay-up, Ilwaco had fashioned a 21-16 lead with 4:40 to go in the half.

In working to stop Ridgefield's quick guards, Ilwaco was zapped for 11 fouls in the first half and put the Spudders to the line 16 times the initial 16 minutes. The fact that Padgett, Crete and sophomore Jordan Williams were all in foul trouble, aided and abetted Ridgefield's ability to tie the contest at 25-25 at intermission. Fortunately, Peru blew 7 of the foul shots he was given.

Ilwaco broke out fast at the beginning of the third quarter. Cadwell sank 1 of 2 from the line, Williams found Padgett open for a trey and Mirelez dished to Cadwell, who had sprung free for another lay-up to give the Fishermen their largest margin of the game 31-25.

A foul shot by Peru, a two-pointer from Bleth along with an NBA-distance three-point hoop, tied the game 31-31. The Fishermen had two slashing lay-ins blocked in the stretch and had five rejected for the contest. Gray put the Fishermen ahead with a free toss of his own, but Ridgefield scored 12 of the next 14 points to go up 43-34 with 5:28 remaining in the final period.

At that point, Padgett had fouled out, Crete was saddled with four personals, and the Fishermen team was near exhaustion - so all they did was hold the Spudders scoreless the next four minutes and battle back to within four points. Had they converted their free throws during that time (Ilwaco made 2 of a possible 8 chances), a trip to the state tournament may have been in the offing for Ilwaco.

In the final 1:49, Bleth dropped in 4 free throws, and Peru hit a basket to put Ridgefield up 49-40. With 1:10 remaining, Inserra swished a three-pointer and was knocked to the floor - a space many a Fishermen occupied during the hotly-contested battle. He rose to sink the charity shot, his four-point play closing the gap to 49-44.

Mirelez dropped in a three from the right corner, and a Cadwell free toss capped Ilwaco's scoring. In the meantime, the Spuds had two break-away lay-ins against the Fishermen's all-out pressure defense to make the final 53-48.

"We had opportunities to beat a very good team, but we didn't capitalize," a drained Blair explained. "We had a lot of open looks but didn't shoot well or make our free throws at key times in the game. The kids played very hard. This group of guys always has done that."

Padgett finished with 14 points and held Bleth to half his total he scored against Ilwaco in their meeting two weeks ago. Cadwell scored 11 times, had 8 boards, while giving up four inches and 40 pounds to his man. He and Williams each had 3 assists and 3 steals, as did Padgett.

Crete garnered 5 rebounds and 2 points, and Gray contributed 3 points and 2 fourth-quarter rebounds. Mirelez limited Trico-MVP Peru to 14 points, while scoring 6 points and gathering in his season-high 8 rebounds himself. Jarod Schaak contributed productive minutes in the second period when the Fishermen were in foul trouble.

Ilwaco was a paltry 29 percent from the field (14 of 48) and only 56 percent from the charity stripe (13 of 23). The Fishermen had 7 threes and 7 baskets inside the arc. Ridgefield wasn't much better at shooting the basketball, going 15 of 45 from the floor for 33 percent and sinking 18 of 31 foul shots for 58 percent. Both teams were whistled for 21 fouls in the wire-to-wire melee. Ilwaco out-rebounded the bigger, stronger Spuds 35-31 and forced 12 turnovers while committing only 9 of their own.

Leaving the locker room, Blair summed up his feelings by saying, "It was a fun year. I wish it was still going."

He had praise for assistant coaches Chris Hill and Paul Jacobson, as well as Peter Gaynor, Mooch Smith, Dylan Wirkkala and Joe Goelz.

"Those guys practiced hard all season and made us better."

Ilwaco finishes with a 15-8 record, exactly the same as last season's Cinderella team was at the end of district. The one difference is that last season's squad lost one more game during the regular season and won one more in district. For a team and coaching staff which has worked for years to get to state, that's all the difference in the world.

Ridgefield 13 12 12 16 - 53

Ilwaco 12 13 9 14 - 48

Ridgefield: Peru 22, Bleth 16, Daugherty 5, Hefflin 5, Byrne 2, Kuhlmeyer 2, Farr 1

Ilwaco: Padgett 14, Cadwell 11, Inserra 11, Mirelez 6, Gray 3, Crete 2, Williams 1, Schaak.

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