Ever since he was a second-grader, lacing ’em up in the Auburn Recreation District league, Josh Ritchart has looked up to his big brother, Andrew, on the basketball floor.
But after Josh shot up three inches between his freshman and sophomore seasons, it’s now Andrew who’s literally looking up to his kid brother.
“He always told me he was going to be taller than me,” said Andrew, a 6-foot, 3-inch senior forward for the Forest Lake Christian Falcons. “So I guess it was true. And he’s still growing and I’m done.
“I’m just glad he’s on my team and I don’t have to take to the basket against him.”
Not many players in the Central Valley Christian League have fared well in that tall order, as the 6-foot-6 Josh is averaging 5.8 blocked shots per game.
In fact, not many teams have found much success against the Ritchart brothers and their fellow Forest Lake Christian Falcons, who head into today’s Division V semifinals owning a 20-9 record and a share of the CVCL crown.
Though he says he’d rather not have to match up against his not-so little brother, the truth is Andrew often does just that in one-on-one battles.
“We come in here on the weekends and beat each other up,” Andrew said. “It’s good because we sharpen each other’s games and it also helps us know what each other’s tendencies are on the floor.”
Having played on the same squad since their early days in the Auburn recreation leagues -alongside fellow Falcon Ben Sparling and often against FLC teammate Austin Maynard – the brothers often know what each other is thinking and where they’re likely to make a cut on the court, well in advance.
That familiarity has paid huge dividends for the Falcons, as Andrew has averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game. Josh has added 14.9 points and 8.6 boards per contest.
And though he’s now stuffing the stat sheet nightly, Josh says much of the credit for his success should be directed to his brother.
“He’s been playing (varsity) for three years and he knows all the little tricks,” Josh said. “So I listen to what he says and then go out on the court and execute it.”
The way the Falcons have executed their offense this season -averaging more than 75 points per game – it’s no surprise that they’ve made such a deep run in the D-V playoffs. The Ritcharts said they knew they could compete with any team in the division, if they could just stay healthy.
A year ago, with Andrew and senior Adam Reed sidelined by injury for much of the season, the Falcons fell short of their own expectations – although drawing the No. 16 seed and a first-round matchup with five-time section champ Modesto Christian didn’t make things any easier.
“We’ve always had pretty good guys on the team,” Andrew said. “This year, the seniors have a sense of urgency that has really brought us together.
“I know we can win and get to Arco (Arena). We’re taking it one game at a time and staying humble. It’s all about our desire. But I know in my heart we can do it.”
Taking a look at his starting lineup, which includes four starters from the 2006-07 campaign, David Thomas knows he has the best team in his four years with the Falcons. And while seniors Maynard, Sparling and Andrew Ritchart serve as the nucleus, he also knows the importance of his young man in the middle.
“Obviously the three seniors are the heart and soul of the team,” Thomas said. “But all four of the boys – the two Ritcharts and the other seniors – were starters last year.
“And Josh definitely does a lot for us down there under the basket. He can score at will, but he also gives us a decided advantage defensively.”
FLC’s defensive improvement was on display in Friday’s quarterfinal win, when the Falcons held fifth-seed Faith Christian to three points in the first quarter and a total of 10 in the first half.
“We’ve been trying to get our defense tightened up all year,” Andrew said. “It just came together all in one night.”
Coming together for those one-on-one exhibitions of sibling rivalry, the Ritcharts agreed they’ve each played a huge part in each other’s progress. Both boys hope to play college ball, although no plans have yet been made.
“He’s beaten me a few times,” Andrew said with a smile. “He has all the potential in the world to go to a big school. I think he’s got a chance to go farther than anyone who has played here, as long as he keeps working.”
Consider that done, Josh said.
“It feels really good to hear that, because usually a big brother talks down to you,” he said. “It feels good to hear a compliment like that from him and it makes you want to work even harder.”
To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4240.
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