DAYTON – Maybe it was a bad omen.
Ripley entered the Dayton Arena floor with high hopes of claiming their first district title since 2004. But before it even started, they were put behind the 8-ball with a rule they had no idea of.
The Blue Jays would be issued a technical to start the contest for running on Catholic Central’s side of the floor during warmups. The Irish would go on to claim the district title, 56-45 as the cold shooting Blue Jays just never could seem to find a rhythm.
Ripley shot 29 percent from the floor and were outrebounded 41-23 in the contest, ending their season on the Flyers floor.
“Clearly we didn’t play our best and we know that. That doesn’t take away from the type of season that we had. We win our 11th sectional in school history and there’s a lot of teams that would love to be in the position that we were in,” Blue Jays coach Rex Woodward said.
The Irish would knock down the two free throws to start the game up 2-0 and with possession. It didn’t phase the Blue Jays though, not much does. They’d regroup, develop their tempo and take a 14-12 lead after a quarter of play.
But then a cold spell hit…and lingered. Ripley would go over a 10-minute stretch from the 5:40 mark in the second quarter to the 3:20 mark of the third quarter without a made basket from the field as an 18-15 lead turned into a 31-21 deficit.
“We were just doing a little too much isolation basketball. Some guys tried to do things individually and the ball wasn’t moving a whole lot. We just got bad possessions and didn’t get quality looks at the rim. When you’re getting low percentage shots, that’s going to happen when you go long stretches without a field goal,” Woodward said.
Landon Rigdon would end the drought with a 3-pointer, but that was answered by two straight Irish 3-pointers to give them a 37-24 lead late into the third. The Blue Jays would close with the final five points of the frame to remain within striking distance, trailing 37-29 after three.
The Irish lead diminished even more as the Blue Jays continued on their run, scoring the first five of the fourth to get within three. After forcing a turnover, the Blue Jays had an opportunity to tie it, but Rigdon’s 3-point try drew the back of the iron and the comeback attempt would slowly be squashed from there.
“I thought the guys did a pretty good job of fighting and just one too many things didn’t go our way,” Woodward said.
Sabien Doolittle proved vital down the stretch and pretty much all contest as he converted back-to-back layups mixed in with a Landon Dearing layup in-between.
“Doolittle does a fantastic job of recognizing when we need a big bucket. When the time counts he definitely steps up and makes some big shots when we need them,” Irish coach Cody Sarensen said.
The rebounding edge for the Irish was especially key in the fourth as they converted on putbacks on several occasions in the closing minutes, including a Mykah Eichie 3-point play on a stick back attempt to give the Irish a 46-38 lead with 3:22 to play.
The Blue Jays were unable to get any closer than six from there as Nigel Royal knocked down a deep 3-pointer to make it 51-45 with 44 seconds to play, but the Blue Jays were unable to find the bottom of the net the rest of the way as the Irish knocked down five of their last six free throw attempts in the final 37 seconds to close the door on the contest.
Helping keep the Blue Jays in it during their cold shooting was their ability to force 14 turnovers while just committing two.
“Credit to Ripley, they play incredibly hard. Very scrappy, tenacious team. They challenged us big time, credit to Coach Woodward and what they do,” Sarensen said.
In a physical battle with a lot of 50-50 balls on rebounds, Ripley committed 22 fouls to Catholic Central’s nine, including the technical at the beginning of the game which forced the Ripley coaching staff to be forced to sit on the bench while coaching the entire contest.
“They said we came out on to the court wrong and I was just baffled, I didn’t understand what they meant. They explained that we came across the baseline and you’re not allowed to do that, you have to come up the sideline,” Woodward said. “So I asked if that was in the rule book because I’ve never heard of that. They said it was because you’re not allowed to circle the other team. We respect the other team, it was nothing disrespectful. I was actually in the locker room at the time so I didn’t see it. I guess you’re not allowed to circle the other team. I thought they could have let that go, but they didn’t.”
The loss ends the Blue Jays season at 17-9. They were led in scoring on the evening by Nigel Royal with 12 points. Peyton Fyffe, Josiah Staggs, Landon Rigdon and Jaki Royal all added between six and eight points apiece.
They’ll bring some big pieces back with both Royal brothers, Fyffe, Rigdon and Alex King.
“We told the younger guys they have to continue to grind and the offseason has got to mean a lot more to them if you want to win and be on the other end of this next year,” Woodward said.
But the losses will be felt as Ryan Harney, Staggs and Brian Dunn among others will be departing due to graduation.
“Our seniors have been huge all year. They showed up every single day working hard. They gave us everything throughout their four years here,” Woodward said. “We wouldn’t even be in position without them. These kids were a good group to be around, don’t get in trouble and are positive all the time, it definitely speaks to what they’ve done throughout their four years.”
The Irish were led by Doolittle’s 21 point, eight rebound effort. Trey Dunn added 11 points. The Irish move on to the regional semifinal to face xx on Tuesday at 8 p.m.