Blue Jays are sectional champs

Members of the Ripley-Union-Lewis-Huntington varsity boys basketball team celebrate their sectional championship win over James Gamble Montessori. Ripley players shown are Alex King, Landon Rigdon, Brian Dunn, and Josiah Staggs. Photo by Jared MacDonald

Ripley boys headed to UD Arena – 

A Ripley-Union-Lewis-Huntington High School varsity boys basketball hadn’t been to the district tournament since 2004. They hadn’t even won a post season tourney game for three straight years leading into the 2017-2018 season. But the drought has finally ended.

It looked like it would be at least another year before the Blue Jays could make it to the finals as James Gamble Montessori started the second quarter Saturday on a 13-3 run, but Ripley, with a big crowd behind them at Taylor High School, battled back to claim a 58-51 victory to earn a trip to University of Dayton Arena to compete in the Southwest District Division IV Tournament.

“I just told them to settle down. We knew they were going to throw some punches our way and they did exactly that and they got the momentum early. I just told our guys, ‘Just settle in. If you continue to grind, you continue to play hard possession by possession, good things will happen and we’ll chip away at the lead,’” said Ripley coach Rex Woodward. “They listened and luckily we hit some key shots down the stretch of the second quarter to cut the lead to 10, and that helped us big time.”

The Gators started the game on a 10-2 run, but a jumper from Ryan Harney and a layup from Landon Rigdon got the Blue Jays back within three by the end of the first quarter.

Shortly after that, it looked like Ripley would be playing their final game of the season.

Gamble Montessori used back-to-back 3-pointers from Alvin Bowers to start the second quarter on a 13-3 run to take a 23-10 lead midway through the frame. Ripley’s only points during that stretch came from a 3-pointer from Rigdon, which would be a sign of things to come.

“We were just out of sorts. I don’t know if the guys were nervous or what, because it was just such a big stage they’re not used to playing on,” said Woodward. “We went zone a couple possessions, and it was weird – I told them, ‘We when go zone, if they hit a couple of shots we’re going to stay with it.’ I didn’t expect them to hit the very first two threes that they took, so now I’m questioning myself and we came out of it.”

The Gators continued to stretch the lead to 14 at 28-14, but Rigdon drilled two triples to end the half to make it a 10-point game.

“Huge. He’s the best shooter that I’ve ever coached. That’s what he does,” said Woodward. “I tell him every game to stay confident and do what you do and every opportunity you get to let it fly. He did that and he hit gigantic shots for us. He’s a gamer.”

The junior woke up the crowd with his long-range shots, but it was a senior that took over in the third quarter.

Brian Dunn started the second half by finishing a shot while getting fouled, converting the free throw to cut Ripley’s deficit to seven. Dunn kept rolling, finishing the quarter with 11 points. The senior scored the first 11 points of the third quarter in the Blue Jay’s 87-23 win on Wednesday.

“Usually the first half is where I kind of see how the other team is playing, see their playing style and see where their weaknesses are,” said Dunn. “Then at halftime – I know coach is wanting me to pay attention to the board, but I have to do that and at the same time kind of process in my head what I need to do to contribute to my team, and that’s kind of why third quarters really shine for me.”

Dunn’s final points of the frame got the Blue Jays within five at 42-37, before a layup from Harney and Rigdon’s fourth 3-pointer of the evening tied it, 42-42.

Michael McCants put a shot in to give Gamble Montessori the 44-42 lead heading into the fourth, but the Blue Jay faithful had made the 70.1 mile trip from Ripley-Union-Lewis-Huntington High School and were fired up.

“They’ve rallied around us. We’re very thankful for that. Before we left I think we had sold every ticket they sent us except 20 or so, so we knew we were going to have a good crowd and a much bigger crowd than they were probably going to have and we hoped that was going to benefit us,” said Woodward. “I think they really picked us up and kind of acted as our sixth man there for a good stretch.”

McCants had a chance to increase the lead at the charity stripe to open the fourth, but missed and Jaki Royal evened the score with a floater in the paint. It was followed by a layup from Harney to give the Blue Jays their first lead of the night with 6:42 to play.

After over three minutes of scoreless play, Jeremi Cauley hit a shot to even the score again, but Rigdon hit his fifth 3-pointer with 2:40 remaining to give Ripley a lead they would not give back up.

“I was just letting it fly – not even thinking about it. I just wanted to do it for the seniors,” said Rigdon. “That’s all that really mattered to me.”

The Gators were able to cut their deficit to three on a layup from Dustin Davis with 39.9 seconds left, but the Blue Jays hit 6-of-8 free throws, three of which came from Rigdon and two from Dunn, to close out the win.

“Just like practice every day. I work on free throws every day,” said Rigdon. “Just shoot it and watch it go in.”

McCants led Gamble Montessori with 13 points and nine rebounds, while Davis and Cauley each had 10 points. The Gators finish the season at 12-10.

Rigdon finished with 23 points, while Dunn had 14 and Harney had 10 points and eight rebounds for Ripley. The Blue Jays improve to 17-8 and will travel to the University of Dayton for a district final contest with No. 1 seed Catholic Central, who beat Legacy Christian in overtime, 42-40, earlier on Saturday. The game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.


JGM 10 20 14 7 – 51

RULH 7 13 22 16 – 58

GAMBLE MONTESSORI (51): McCants 13, Davis 10, Cauley 10, Wilcox 6, Bowers 6, English 6

RIPLEY (58): Rigdon 23, Dunn 14, Harney 10, J. Royal 9, King 2

Records: Gamble Montessori 12-10, Ripley 17-8

Champion Media’s Wade Linville and Jared MacDonald teamed up to bring you this story.

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