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Ryle Tops Simon Kenton in Kentucky Sweet 16 Opener

Ryle returned to BB&T Arena where it had cut down the nets followings its 9th Region tournament championship and where it will now try to march its way through the Kentucky Sweet 16.

The first game brought not only a familiar setting but also a familiar, 8th Region champions Simon Kenton.

Ryle won 61 to 56, beating the Pioneers for the third time this season, and improving to 29-6 on the year. Simon Kenton's season ends at 20-11.

“We’ve been talking about mental toughness all year long,” said Katie Haitz, Ryle Head Coach. “Being able to come back when things are exactly going our way. We did that. We started to hit some shots. We made some defensive adjustments, boxed out and played our game. I think that’s what made the difference there.”

It came down to the final minutes as neither team led by more than nine points. Down the stretch, Ryle made 6-of-6 free throws to pull away for the win and Simon Kenton could not make shots in the clutch.

“We understand they’re going to know our tendencies and they’re going to know our tendencies,” Haitz said. “You’re still going to watch film. You’re still going to watch and see where we messed up. What are some things we need to change? Game time, there’s so many adjustments you have to make depending on what’s going on. If this doesn’t work then we’re not going to continue to do that. We have to find something they’re not used to.”

Both teams like to penetrate with their talented guards and make things happen from there. Both teams are also not afraid to get out and run when the opportunities present themselves.

Junior guard Lauren Schwartz and sophomore guard Maddie Scherr had big games despite finishing with four and three fouls respectively for Ryle. Scherr made 8-of-14 shots including three three-pointers on her way to 21 points to go with two blocked shots. Schwartz recorded a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds to go with two assists, four blocked shots and four steals.

“We shoot about 50 free throws a practice,” Schwartz said. “That’s a big factor. That boosted our confidence that we were about to win the game. I think if we wouldn’t have made those, it would have been a different outcome.”

Scherr picked up her third foul just 46 seconds into the third quarter and Schwartz picked up her third with 5:58 left in the third. But the two overcame it.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” Scherr said. “I always get those fouls in the beginning of the game. I think it has to do with (Coach Haitz) reminding me I can’t foul and that I have to be smart. I had it in the back of my head. Playing aggressive is where I usually get my fouls.”

But the duo has had great help all season. Sophomore guard Jaiden Douthit followed with 11 points and the other two starters in junior guard Juliet McGregor and freshman Brie Crittendon had seven points and three assists each.

Simon Kenton also displayed its usual balance. Senior guard Ally Niece, a Northern Kentucky University signee, had 18 points, seven assists and a steal to go with eight rebounds and senior guard Shelby Harmeyer, a Campbellsville University signee, had 14 points and nine rebounds.

Ryle ended up making 24-of-60 shots for 40 percent including 6-of-16 from three-point range for 38 percent and hit 7-of-9 free throws for 78 percent. Simon Kenton made 20-of-61 shots for 33 percent including 6-of-25 three-point tries for 24 percent and 10-of-13 free throws for 77 percent.

Simon Kenton built its halftime lead with 12 offensive rebounds. But Ryle adjusted in the second half and won that battle, 40-37. 

“We didn’t take care of the ball at the end,” said Jeffrey Stowers, Simon Kenton Head Coach. “It’s kind of been our MO all season long. We get the game down to where we want it in the last couple minutes or so. We turn the ball over. Then we don’t get the stops when we want. We tell the girls there are no do-overs. Ryle was the better team (Thursday).”

It helped that Ryle blocked more shots and recorded more steals than Simon Kenton. The Lady Raiders had seven steals and seven blocks to two steals and one block for the Lady Pioneers. Eighth-grader Austin Johnson had three steals for Ryle.

Simon Kenton came out on fire making its first four shots to build a 9-4 lead. It became 11-4 after two Niece free throws before Ryle came back to tie it at 14 following a Scherr triple. Niece made a three-point play with four seconds left to give the Lady Pioneers a 17-14 advantage after one.

A Megan Buckner triple and Niece tip-in gave Simon Kenton a 22-14 advantage. Ryle trimmed it to three twice before Mattie Vickers put in an offensive rebound and Niece did the same thing with 50 seconds left in the half.

Two Vickers free throws gave Simon Kenton a 35-26 advantage with 28 seconds left. But Douthit hit a long three with a second left to trim the margin to 35-29 at halftime.

“It didn’t help that we gave up the basket at the end of the half,” Stowers said. “We would have had them down nine. We had the ball to start the second half. Anywhere Schwartz went, we were going to go to get fouls on her.”

Scherr hit a three-pointer to start the second half. The Simon Kenton lead stayed at one to three points for the next several minutes before Schwartz and Scherr hit back-to-back lay-ups to give Ryle a 42-39 advantage.

Stamper answered at the other end with 1:49 left in the third to trim the Ryle lead to 42-41. Following a Crittendon lay-up, Harmeyer hit a triple with 41 seconds left in the quarter to tie it a 44 headed into the fourth quarter.

The game stayed tight in the fourth quarter. Niece hit a jumper to give Simon Kenton a 53-51 lead with 3:01 to go before Douthit answered at the other end.

“I think the length of the court kind of bothered me,” Niece said. “I’m not in shape first off from being seven months out (with an injury) obviously. I think that it affected me more than it normally does. But it happens.”

McGregor gave Ryle the lead for good at 55-53 with 2:01 left in the game. Simon Kenton had several chances to tie it but could not score.

“We basically had (Schwartz and Scherr) where we wanted them with foul trouble,” Stowers said. “They are foul-prone. We could have had more fouls, but we weren’t willing to stick our nose in and take the charge at some point in time. Our girls don’t understand that. We’ll write on the board that for us to be successful, we need three to five charges a game. We told them if you don’t do the little things, you don’t do what you’re asked, this is where you’re at.”

That’s when Ryle hit six straight free throws to build a 61-53 advantage with 16 seconds left. Harmeyer hit a three with 10 seconds left to make the final score.

Ryle takes on 6th Region winner Louisville Mercy (23-9) at 6:30 p.m. Friday back at BB&T Arena. Mercy beat Ryle, 74-66 in the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic on Dec. 21.

“We’re going to do the same thing we do,” Haitz said. “Consistency, consistency, consistency. Anymore now, it’s tournament time. You never know what’s going to happen. Who’s going to step up? Who’s going to take over the game? We’re going to prepare each one of their players and go from there.”

Written by G. Michael Graham