MIDDLEBURY — Northridge isn’t necessarily making it look easy, but the Raiders are making it look familiar.
And with their two most familiar faces leading the charge.
Nate Ritchie again sprung from the gate like the offensive thoroughbred he is, while the team’s only other senior, Sam Ahonen, again captured the decisive rebound as Northridge improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2008 to start a high school boys basketball season, holding off Westview 54-50 in the Raiders’ home opener Saturday, Nov. 30.
Ritchie, who poured in 20 points during the first half of Northridge’s 73-72 victory over Elkhart Central on Wednesday, this time added a dozen points in the first five and a half minutes alone as the Raiders bolted to a 17-9 advantage.
The 6-foot-1 Ahonen, just as he did against Central, hugged the final board in heavy traffic at the defensive end.
On Wednesday, it was as the clock expired.
This time, with the Raiders up three, it also entailed getting fouled with 0.5 seconds left. He added a free throw to clinch the outcome against the shorthanded Warriors.
“That’s just a senior stepping up when needed, and Sam stepped up again,” Northridge coach Ronnie Thomas said. “He’s one guy who’s hard to take off the floor. Coaches have to remind me that he may need a breather once in awhile, because otherwise I don’t even think about taking him out.”
Ahonen finished with 13 points and five rebounds, giving him averages of 12.5 and 5.0 through the first two games, while Ritchie finished with 21 and seven, giving him averages of 25.5 and 7.0 through the first two games.
While Ritchie did struggle over the middle quarters Saturday as Westview frequently double-teamed him, he was pivotal down the stretch with seven points and three boards in the final period.
“Nate is going to get a ton of attention, so he has to understand how he’s going to get shots and help others get shots when he does have that attention on him,” Thomas said. “Nate’s very talented, and he is getting better at understanding those things. He stepped up and made the plays at the end.”
The hosts overcame a spectacular season debut by Westview junior Chandler Aspy, who scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half and added six rebounds.
At a packed-house Middlebury Madhouse, the Raiders led throughout the second half, including 52-42 with just three minutes to go, yet the Warriors (1-1) fought back into the game, thanks in part to Northridge missing the front end of one-and-ones three times over the final 56 seconds.
Westview senior standout Jordyn Bontrager even had a chance to tie the contest at about 20 seconds left on a drive, but missed.
Ritchie secured that rebound and made a free throw with 18 seconds left for a 53-50 count, before Ahonen secured the aforementioned final one.
While Aspy did return from his preseason bout with mononucleosis, five other Westview varsity players were out for assorted reasons, leaving coach Rob Yoder to play just six players on the evening.
“We’ve got a lot of room for improvement, and give Northridge credit, they made a few more plays to get in a better position at the end than we did,” Yoder said, “but being realistic, we are a team that’s healing.”
While the Warriors do have their projected four best players in Aspy, Bontrager, Judah Zickafoose and Jamar Weaver, Damon Hershberger and Chase Anderson are sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury and broken arm, respectively, and now Kolton Miller has mono.
Further, two other players are out for disciplinary reasons, one expected back next week, the other expected to miss four more games, according to Yoder.
“Hats off to them, they played well,” Thomas said of Westview. “Actually, we didn’t plan on Aspy playing, but he hit some amazing shots. We couldn’t stop him.”
“He had an unbelievable summer, and he’s really not in his best condition yet,” Yoder said of Aspy, who has had just seven full-scale practices, “so we think he’s going to get better.”
As it was, Aspy finished 10-of-19 from the field with his assortment of inside moves and 5-of-5 at the line.
Zickafoose added nine points, a game-high 10 rebounds and a game-high two blocked shots, while Bontrager finished with 11 points and a game-high six assists.
Thomas credited Pete Smith and Peyton Carson for their defense that slowed Bontrager down some after the senior scored 27 earlier in the week at Bethany Christian.
The Raiders avenged an 81-73, triple-overtime loss last year against their neighbors to the east. The home team has now won each of the last four meetings.
NORTHRIDGE 54, WESTVIEW 50
Westview — Chandler Aspy 10-19 5-5 25, Judah Zickafoose 4-7 1-2 9, Cody Litwiller 1-4 0-0 3, Jamar Weaver 0-4 0-0 0, Jordyn Bontrager 4-9 3-5 11, Andrew Yoder 1-4 0-0 2. Totals: 20-47 (.426) 9-12 (.750) 50.
Northridge — Nate Ritchie 8-16 4-5 21, Tom Morrison 2-7 2-3 7, Pete Smith 2-3 0-0 4, Collin Utley 3-6 0-2 6, Sam Ahonen 4-5 5-7 13, Christian Bach 1-4 1-3 3, Brock Downey 0-3 0-0 0, Peyton Carson 0-0 0-0 0, Kurtis Hochstetler 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 20-45 (.444) 12-20 (.600) 54.
Scoring By Quarters
Westview 14 9 11 16 — 50
Northridge 17 13 12 12 — 54
3-point goals: Westview (1-8) — Litwiller 1-4; Northridge (2-11) — Ritchie 1-2, Morrison 1-5.
Rebounds: Westview (28) — Zickafoose 10, Aspy 6; Northridge (30) — Ritchie 7, Ahonen 5.
Assists: Westview (15) — Bontrager 6, Weaver 3; Northridge (9) — Morrison 2, Smith 2, Utley 2.
Steals: Westview (3) — Aspy, Weaver, Bontrager; Northridge (7) — Morrison 2.
Turnovers: Westview 11, Northridge 8.
Fouls: Westview 17, Northridge 13. Fouled out — Yoder (0:00.5, 4th quarter).
Records: Westview 1-1, Northridge 2-0.
Next: Churubusco at Westview, Northridge at SB Riley, both Friday, Dec. 6.
JV: Northridge 44, Westview 36. Top scorers: Northridge — Spencer Jones 16, Dylan Sandy 13; Westview — Lucas Yoder 11, Tim Miller 7, Kade Miller 7. JV records: Northridge 2-0, Westview 1-1.