NEW PORT RICHEY — Multiple times in the first half of Friday night's game at Ridgewood, Mitchell first-year coach Jared St. Charles could be heard yelling from the sideline to his players, "This is a big game!"
A big game against one of the area's elite programs turned into a lesson against the still-strong Rams as Ridgewood downed the Mustangs 80-70.
Ridgewood (3-2) jumped out to an early lead behind its two leading scorers, C.J. Jones (28 points, four rebounds) and Jacob Rauh (24 points, five rebounds, four assists). The duo scored the Rams' first 24 points before a free throw by Scott Kujak midway through the second period accounted for the first Ridgewood points from someone else.
"I thought we played well in terms of mental toughness," Ridgewood coach Gary Anders said. "We had significantly less turnovers tonight (than in our previous games), and we didn't run out of gas."
Mitchell (2-2), however, did not go away after the early Ridgewood surge. A barrage of 3-pointers, 10 total in the contest, kept the Mustangs close. Dustin Hannel accounted for six of those 3s and a team-high 25 points.
Mitchell, which took a short-lived lead in the third quarter, was in foul trouble for much of the game. Leading scorer Chad Jeckel (14 points) picked up his fourth foul with 3:13 left in the third period and wasn't able to return until there was 4:55 left in regulation.
Ridgewood has been searching for a steady source of post production on offense, and the Rams may have found that source Friday. In the second half, reserve forward Emrah Hamzik scored 13 and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Rams on the interior.
"We've been doing (the post offense) by committee," Anders said. "Hamzik really stepped up tonight. He did what we need him to do — play solid, not try to make Superman plays down there."