The March 10 ThunderRidge-George Washington clash matched two teams with identical 24-2 records in the Class 5A state boys basketball semifinals, and the game lived up to expectations.
George Washington pulled ahead at 57-56 and went on to win 61-56.
“It was a tough game. It was an emotional loss for us and I want everyone to know that I am very proud of how we played tonight and what our guys accomplished this season. Give GW a lot of credit. They are a great team and I think they are the best team we played this season,” Grizzlies coach Joe Ortiz said. “We felt this was the year we had a good chance to win state. The last two years there was a clearly dominate team that won the state title as expected. But this year it was wide open. I felt there were four or five state championship contenders and one of the title contenders was ThunderRidge.”
It was almost non-stop action as both teams ran a fast-paced style, pushing the ball up the court looking to score points.
The Patriots pulled ahead 16-11 by the end of the first period and went on to build a 10-point advantage to lead 31-21 at halftime.
The Patriots' largest lead was 44-28 in the third quarter, but the Grizzlies continued to play hard, cut into the lead and trailed 44-39 going into the final quarter.
ThunderRidge scored points from outside, down the lane and from the free throw line to take its first lead at 51-50 with 4:47 left on the clock. The score was tied at 54 and the Grizzlies led 56-55 with 43.5 seconds left in the game. But George Washington scored the rest of the points as they hit a pair of baskets plus 2-of-4 foul shots to win the game.
Kaison Hammonds was the scoring leader for ThunderRidge with 27 points and Ryan Holt scored 10 points.
The Patriots had a height advantage but the Grizzlies kept pace with them on the boards as GW pulled down a total of 37 rebounds and ThunderRidge captured 35 rebounds. Hammonds and Bailey Verk were the Grizzlies' leading rebounders as each player pulled down seven.
Six Grizzlies graduate in June but Ortiz said he already has high expectations for next year's team.
“We have been to the Great Eight 12 times and to the Final Four eight times so we expect to be great every year,” he said. “Regardless of what we did in tonight game I always expect ThunderRidge to have a great boys basketball team year after year.”