High School Basketball

First-quarter knockout makes the difference in Sweet Sixteen championship

Ryle saved its best for Sunday.

The Raiders trailed briefly before using a 15-0 first-quarter run to make Southwestern’s bid for another upset in the 58th KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen much harder to achieve. They fended off the Warriors to walk away from Rupp Arena with a 63-48 victory and their program’s first state championship.

Ryle, making its second straight Sweet Sixteen appearance after having never been, became just the second team out of the 9th Region to win a girls’ title but the second in the last five seasons, joining 2015 champion Covington Holy Cross. Both Ryle and Southwestern were in the finals for the first time.

“It’s amazing. I don’t even know how to put it into words,” Maddie Scherr said. “We’ve been talking about this moment for so long. I mean, since coach put us in as a little practice team when I was in the seventh grade. … It doesn’t even feel real right now.”

Scherr — a junior ranked in ESPN’s top 25 nationally — had nine points on only six shot attempts (she made four and didn’t attempt a free throw). She finished 13 rebounds — nine in the first half — four assists, four steals and two blocks, an all-around effort ending with her being named Sweet Sixteen MVP; she played 31 minutes after tweaking her hamstring against Owensboro Catholic in the semifinals on Saturday.

“Maddie is so unselfish. She’s just unbelievable,” Ryle Coach Katie Haitz said. “Just ball handling, knowing the game, getting her players involved besides herself. She does so much other stuff than just scoring. … A top player like that isn’t always like that, and she’s just one heck of a player.”

She’s being recruited by Kentucky, Louisville, Oregon and Tennessee, among many others.

“I’ll probably go into my senior year and just let it play itself out,” Scherr said. “Just take my time.”

Brie Crittendon, Ryle’s third-leading scorer this season, led the Raiders in scoring for the second straight night. She finished with 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting.

Jaiden Douthit, No. 5 in scoring average at 5.6 points per game, had 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including a 3-for-6 mark from behind the three-point line.

“We knew that they had three dominant kids, We tried to limit them. ” Southwestern Coach Stephen Butcher II said. “And then a kid that doesn’t even make the all-tournament team (Douthit), I don’t know how many threes she made, but it was too daggum many. She just wore us out.”

Lauren Schwartz, a Rice University signee who averages a team-best 19.7 points per game, ended with 14 points, two blocks and two steals.

“I think it definitely showed, this whole tournament really, what everyone was capable of,” said Juliet McGregor, a Ryle senior. “I think Maddie and Lauren get a lot of recognition, which is amazing because they’re amazing players, but I think too, you really saw everyone step up and seize their roles throughout this whole tournament. … It’s the little things that really count.”

Southwestern shot 5-for-19 in the first half but in the third quarter made its first five shots and went 9-for-12 overall to pull within 14 points heading into the fourth. The Warriors cut Ryle’s lead to nine, 57-48, with 2:26 remaining but didn’t score for the remainder of the game. Ryle made its final six free-throw attempts to pull away for good and ran out the clock in the final minute.

Regi Cundiff led Southwestern with 16 points. Kallie Sheron finsihed with 13 points and six rebounds for the Warriors, who played for the first time in the girls’ Sweet Sixteen. Southwestern opened in 1993.

Butcher, who is furthering his career in school administration, entered the season knowing it would be his last one at the helm. It was the second time a team he led fell to the eventual champion; Lexington Christian Academy defeated Pike County Central in the 2007 state semifinals on the way to the crown.

“Somebody asked me if I was disappointed,” Butcher said. “Whatever the opposite of disappointed is, that’s how I feel about my team. They did everything I asked ’em to do and did it in a classy manner and the way I wanted to do it. I couldn’t be prouder of my bunch.”