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Ridgewood rallies past Land O'Lakes without star Ayers

Ridgewood point guard Crystal Ayers was carried off the court screaming after her right knee collapsed under her. Her senior season was in doubt, her team down by nine, her teammates shattered.

It was a disaster in the making.

For Land O'Lakes.

Ridgewood rallied to a 57-53 road win Wednesday night, overcoming the first-quarter loss of the two-time Sunshine Athletic Conference player of the year to keep the quest for a seventh-straight SAC title going.

Even without Pasco County's best player, the Rams are still its best team.

"I was very proud of them," coach Greg Bollinger said. "We weren't very focused after it happened, they were all crying.

"I kept telling them, "We can't change what happened. We just have to focus on the rest of the game. You are a good team. We're not just all about Crystal.' "

But it was all about Ayers, the school's all-time leading scorer. The team won for her as the senior was being taken to the emergency room at Bayonet Point Medical Center.

"It was amazing," guard Jen Barrett said. "We wanted to do it for her because she's helped us in so many games. We wanted to pay her back."

Ayers' injury brought the Rams (21-1) to life after a lackluster first quarter, down 13-4 in the nondistrict, SAC contest.

Everyone contributed. Barrett, who crashed head first into the metal bleachers, but jumped back up, finished with eight points and five steals. Backup Jen Marina led the team with 20 points and hit five 3s, including the deciding shot with 25 seconds left.

Jamie Surmin, Megan Curl and Tara Spaid hit big 3s. In the paint came six points each from Caitlin Morrison and Nina Bonaparte, who also had 13 rebounds.

Both teams were competitive in the last three quarters, but the Gators could not hold the lead or hold off the Rams.

Megan Halkitis stole the ball, then launched a cross-court pass to Barrett, who got the layup and foul, igniting her bench. Her free throw with 3:31 left in the third gave Ridgewood its first lead.

The lead went back and forth after that. The Rams hit nine 3s in all. After missing two free throws after an intentional foul, Marina sank the winning 3 with 25 seconds left.

Land O'Lakes (11-5) was led by Detrice Ellis' 14 points.

"I think they just came out and they were on a mission," Gators coach Greg Robinson said. "I've never seen so many 3s like that in my life. They came in and stepped it up and they weren't going to lose. That was for Crystal, and that's exactly how they played."

Goldie Ayers, Crystal's father, said his daughter appeared to have been bumped by an opposing player while going for a rebound, but no call was made. He hopes his daughter's knee only popped out of its socket and that she doesn't have season-ending ligament damage.

"She's worried about her knee and she's worried about her team," her father said. "But her team came through for her. They called and told her they won and that put her in good spirits."