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Conner lives up to state No. 1 ranking by winning rematch with Ryle in girls basketball showdown

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

For the last three weeks, the Conner girls basketball team has been voted No. 1 in Kentucky statewide coaches polls, but the Cougars still had to prove they were the top team in the 9th Region.

Conner accomplished that Friday with a 62-57 win over Ryle, last year’s regional champion and the only team that had beaten the Cougars (25-1) this season.

Conner center Maddie Drummonds struggles to get a shot off against Lauren Schwartz of Ryle in the game between Northern Kentucky’s top two teams. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

It was a one-point game with 39 seconds remaining, but Conner made seven of eight free throws during a final 7-3 run to win the marquee match-up at Ryle that drew more than 2,000 fans.

“For our kids to be mentally tough and strong, that was a big win,” said Conner coach Aaron Stamm.

“These kids have never been No. 1 before, so it did mean something to come over here and win. The way both schools pumped it up, it was a big game that really did mean something.”

Ryle (22-5) was ranked No. 3 in the latest Associated Press state coaches poll and the Raiders had won the last four games against Conner, including a 60-49 win on Dec. 7.

But the Raiders shot 20.5 percent (7 of 34) from the field in the first half Friday and trailed by 13 points (33-20) early in the third quarter before making a comeback.

Conner’s active zone defense was very effective at limiting Ryle’s points in the paint and second-chance points for most of the game.

“We were just trying to keep them in front of us and trying to make them take jump shots,” coach Stamm said. “They can make jump shots, but it’s better than the gaps you leave when you try to play man and they’re so good getting to the rim. We just took the game plan of making them shoot over us instead of darting to the rim.”

The Raiders got back in the game with a 12-1 run in the third quarter that cut the margin to 34-32. But Conner senior guard Savannah Jordan made a 3-point basket and a pair of free throws to put her team ahead, 39-32, going into the final period.

The Cougars took a 49-40 lead on a 3-pointer by senior guard Joy Strange with a little over three minutes remaining. The Raiders responded by scoring on seven of their next eight possessions and made it a one-point game, 55-54, on a short jumper by senior guard Lauren Schwartz with 39 seconds on the clock.

Strange went to the line and made a free throw. She missed her second attempt, but the quick guard chased down the rebound and was fouled once again. She then made a pair of free throws that gave her team a 58-54 lead.

Conner guard Savannah Jordan, right, drives to the basket against Brie Crittendon of Ryle. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

“The team really wanted this win and seeing that rebound I just wanted to go get it and do it for the team,” Strange said.

Jordan and senior guard Courtney Hurst each made two free throws to extend Conner’s lead to 62-54. With two seconds left, Schwartz hit a 3-pointer for Ryle to complete the scoring.

“I’m so happy for our team and our coaches,” Strange said after the Cougars’ 22nd consecutive victory. “They never let us think that we’re not capable of doing things like this. They always give us confidence. They don’t give up on us and we won’t give up on them.”

Conner ended up shooting 45.4 percent (20 of 44) from the field compared to Ryle’s 33.3 percent (21 of 63). Both teams made four 3-pointers, but the Cougars finished with an 18-11 scoring advantage at the free throw line.

Ryle’s leading scorers were Schwartz with 20 points and junior guard Maddie Scherr with 17. Those two players accounted for 30 of their team’s 41 points in the second half.

“They gave it everything they have,” Ryle coach Katie Haitz said of her team’s comeback. “We switched things up when we had to and just ran out of time. I’m just hoping they learned from the things we didn’t do well.”

Conner had three double-figure scorers. Jordan led the way with 18 points, followed by Strange and Hurst with 13 each.

“We shared the ball really well,” Jordan said. “We knew the only way we were going to beat them is if shared the ball and got rebounds.”

CONNER   10  16  13  23 – 62
RYLE         12    4  16  25 – 57

CONNER (25-1): Strange 3 6 13, Hurst 4 4 13, Jordan 6 4 18, Burcham 3 1 7, Drummonds 3 3 9, Murphy 1 0 2. Totals: 20 18 62.

RYLE (22-5): Crittendon 3 0 7, McGregor 2 0 4, Johnson 2 0 4, Schwartz 6 7 20, Scherr 7 2 17, Douthit 1 2 5. Totals: 21 11 57.

Three-pointers: C — Jordan 2, Strange, Hurst. R — Crittendon, Schwartz, Scherr, Douthit

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