Galva unveils new look in thrilling 86-84 LTC-opening win over Ridgewood

After scoring a combined 65 points in their previous two games, head coach Chance Jones decided it was time for his Galva Wildcats to pick up the pace.

The new approach was on full display Tuesday night as the Wildcats rallied from a sluggish start to defeat Ridgewood 86-84, thanks to some last-second heroics from senior guard Mason Kaiser.

“We had to find a way to put some more points on the board and we found a way to do that,” Jones said. “Now we have a lot of different things to work on because the other team is going to score a lot more, too.”

The intense, fast-paced Lincoln Trail Conference opener concluded with a steal and score by Kaiser that set off quite a celebration in the GHS gym.

With the game knotted 84-all, Galva’s Cooper Hoxworth was fouled with 5.5 seconds remaining. Hoxworth missed the first free throw and Ridgewood head coach Tom Osborne tried to ice the Galva junior with three straight timeouts. When Hoxworth returned to the line for his second free throw, the Wildcats committed a lane violation and it was Ridgewood ball with an opportunity to steal the win.

After getting the inbounds pass, Ridgewood’s Travis Kane fired a lengthy cross-court pass that Kaiser snagged just beyond half court with just under three seconds to play. 

“When he caught it there, it doesn’t take Mason much more than a second to get from half court to the rim,” Jones said. “That was just a huge senior play right there.”

Kaiser had an uncontested path to the basket and dribbled in for the winning hoop as time expired.

“He (Kane) threw a pass and I went for it,” Kaiser said. “I looked up at the clock and saw we had two seconds left and took it in for a layup.”

“I had one similar at Wethersfield,” Kaiser said of previous game-winning shots in his career, “but it’s a little more special with a home game your senior year. I’m just thankful to be in this moment.”

Kaiser’s clutch play capped a night in which the Wildcats completely scrapped their style from the first 14 games of the season. Jones went to full-court pressure defense, run-and-gun offense, and substitution patterns that featured five in and five out on the minute.

“After the Riverdale (a 53-33 road loss on Jan. 3) game,” Jones said regarding when the decision was made to bust it up and down the court for 32 minutes. “Coach (Drew) Cotton, Coach (Pup) Dennison and I have been talking about it for quite some time. The Riverdale game kind of set it off. The DePue game I thought we guarded as well as we could guard, and we didn’t score enough to win.”

“The other thing is we have a large handful of kids that can be on the floor and I’ve struggled all season with rotations,” Jones added.

It took the new plan a while to kick into gear. The Wildcats missed their first 14 shots, trailed 10-0 and didn’t score a hoop until the 2:15 mark of the first quarter as they stared at a 14-5 deficit.

The Ridgewood lead was 20-11 at the quarter. Galva pulled within 39-36 on an Ethan Peterson trey late in the second quarter, but the Spartans pushed the lead back to 46-40 at the break.

Galva took its first lead of the night, 61-60, with 1:32 left in the third quarter on a Kaiser 3-pointer. Consecutive steals and scores by Gunner Spivey and Peterson helped extend the lead to 68-65 going into the final eight minutes.

Ridgewood countered with its own run to start the fourth quarter, a 14-3 spurt that put the visitors in front 79-71. But Galva had the final answer as consecutive threes by Peterson and Kaiser 26 seconds apart tied the game at 84-84 with 51 seconds remaining, and set the stage for Kaiser’s game-winning theft and layup.

“What I did like was my kids had a blast. Even through some of the wins this year, we haven’t really had that much fun,” Jones said. “I saw a lot of energy out of our guys and that was fun to watch.”

“Coach brought it up last week at practice that we were going to make this change and I think we all had fun with it,” Kaiser said. “We just enjoy playing more when we’re doing this. It’s fun, whether you win or lose, and luckily we came out with the victory.”

Kaiser led all scorers with 22 points, while Peterson followed with 21 for the Wildcats. Hoxworth chipped in with 12 and Spivey added 10. Nelson led four Spartans in double figures with 21 points, followed by Kane 18, Briar Greenman 14 and Max Nuckles 10. The Wildcats are 11-4 overall and 1-0 in conference, while the Spartans slip to 7-5 and 0-1 in the LTC. Ridgewood earned the win over Galva in the fresh-soph opener, 41-30.