Blue Jays soar to sectional finals

Ripley's Jaki Royal buries a shot over a Lockland defender.

Ripley boys advance with sectional tourney wins over Lockland, Hillcrest – 

By Wade Linville – 

The No. 1 seed Ripley-Union-Lewis-Huntington Blue Jays headed to the Southwest District Division IV Sectional Tournament championship game at Taylor High School after topping No. 4 seed Lockland and No. 10 seed Hillcrest in the first two rounds of sectional tourney play at Taylor High School.

The Jays launched their sectional tourney run on Feb. 24, capturing an exciting 57-51 victory over the Lockland Panthers.

Hillcrest, who sat out round of sectional play with a bye, faced off against the Jays in the sectional semifinals at Taylor HS on Wednesday, Feb. 28, and it was the Ripley varsity basketball squad strolling to an 87-23 victory to advance to the sectional championship game.

The Jays were scheduled to take on No. 2 seed James Gamble Montessori (9-9 at the time of the tournament draw) in the SW District Division IV Sectional Finals on March 3.

When the Jays needed leadership on the court in the Feb. 24 sectional game against Lockland, Ripley junior guard Jaki Royal was there to provide, racking up 11 of his game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter alone to pilot the Jays on their flight to victory.

In what was a close bout throughout, the Jays outscored the Panthers 17-13 in the first quarter of play and went on to hold a narrow 29-23 lead at halftime break.

The Jays drew first blood in the contest, as Jaki Royal dished an assist to junior center Alex King for an easy score to give Ripley an early 2-0 lead. After holding the Panthers scoreless with a sturdy defense, it was Jaki Royal scoring on a drive to the hoop to put the Jays up 4-0.

Lockland’s Nakhyje Wright buried the Panthers’ first field goal of the night to cut the Ripley lead to two points, but they would struggle to stop the penetration of Jaki Royal on the other end of the court. The Ripley junior was fouled on a shot during his next drive to the hoop, sinking both free throw attempts to expand the Jays’ lead to 6-2.

A three-pointer by Lockland’s Amadou Mamoudou trimmed the Ripley lead to one point, but it was an assist by Jaki Royal for a bucket by sophomore guard Nigel Royal that upped the Jays’ lead to 8-5.

The Panthers battled by to tie the game at 10 apiece, but it was Ripley junior Austin Dearing providing the Jays with a spark, burying a jump shot and later pulling down an offensive rebound and sinking the put-back to give aid the Ripley squad to a 14-13 advantage late in the first period.

To cap off an exciting first quarter of play, it was Ripley junior Landon Rigdon rifling in a three-pointer at the buzzer to put the Jays up by four.

Lockland’s Amadou Ba came through with a field goal to kick off scoring in the second quarter, cutting the Ripley lead to 17-15. Then it was Lockland’s Lyndon Betts draining one-of-two attempts from thr foul line after he was fouled on a shot to cut the Jays’ lead to just one. But when the Jays needed a bucket, someone was there to answer the call. It was Ripley senior Josiah Staggs muscled his way up for a score in the paint while taking a foul and was able to cash in on the free throw to finish off the old fashioned three-point play that lifted the Jays to a 20-16 lead with 6:15 remaining in the first half.

The Panthers rallied back to take a 21-20 lead, but their lead was short-lived as a three-pointer by Dearing put the Jays on top 23-21 with 5:30 to go in the second period.

After holding the Panthers scoreless with another good defensive stand, Jaki Royal dialed long distance and connected to expand the Ripley lead to 26-21.

Jaki Royal would go on to score six of the Jays’ 12 points in the second quarter to aid his team to a six-point lead just before halftime break.

The Jays never trailed in the third quarter but were outscored by the Panthers 10-9 in the period with Jaki Royal being held scoreless in the frame, but the Ripley standout guard saved his best for last. When it came down to crunch time, Jaki Royal racked up 11 of the Jays’ 19 points in the fourth quarter.

Lockland’s Kyle Runk started off scoring in the fourth quarter by draining a shot from beyond the arc to slice the Ripley lead to 38-36, but it was Ripley junior Corey Germann coming off the bench to sink a three-pointer on the other end of the court, restoring a five-point Blue Jay lead.

Not only was Jaki Royal finding success on his penetration to the hoop in Saturday’s sectional game, but he was also able to knock down some clutch free throws and some big shots from three-point land.

After sinking one-of-two attempts from the foul line with 6:13 to go in the fourth frame, it was a steal by Dearing that led to a three-pointer by Jaki Royal, who was fouled on the three-point make. Royal was able to finish off the four-point play with another hit free throw, expanding the Ripley lead to 46-36 with just over six minutes to go in regulation play.

After holding the Panthers scoreless, it was Jaki Royal sinking a jump-shot from two-point range to put the Jays up by 12.

The Panthers battled back to cut the Ripley lead to just five points late in the fourth quarter, but it was Jaki Royal draining another jump-shot from inside the arc to put the Jays up 53-46.

With a field goal by Ripley senior Ryan Harney and a pair of hit free throws by Rigdon coming late in the fourth quarter, the Jays were able to hold on for the six-point victory, outscoring the Panthers 19-18 in the fourth quarter of play. .

Jaki Royal was the only Jay to reach double figures in scoring in Saturday’s sectional win, sinking five two-point field goals, two three-pointers, and five-of-six attempts from the foul line in his 21-point performance.

Dearing finished with nine points, and King contributed with six points.

Nigel Royal and Rigdon ended the night with five points each.

Ripley’s Peyton Fyffe, Harney, and Germann shot for three points each in the win over Lockland, and rounding out the Jays’ scoring in the contest was senior Brian Dunn with two points.

Leading the Panthers in scoring was Jayshawn Clark with 15 points.

The Jays were in command from the get go in their Feb. 28 win over Hillcrest, rising to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter with six players contributing buckets in the first eight minutes of play.

The Jays kept up their momentum to outscore Hillcrest 20-5 in the second quarter to hold a comfortable 41-12 lead heading into the locker room for halftime break.

The Jays didn’t let up in the second half, dominating the third quarter to outscore Hillcrest 25-4 in the frame.

Heading into the fourth period of play, the Jays held a 66-16 lead.

The Jays capped off their victory by outscoring Hillcrest 21-7 in the final frame.

There were 12 Jays to contribute points to Ripley’s side of the scoreboard in their sectional semifinal win, four of them reaching double figures in scoring.

Ripley senior Ryan Harney led the way in scoring for the Jays with 15 points, draining five field goals from inside the arc, sinking one three-pointer, and connecting on two-of-two attempts from the foul line.

Ripley senior Brian Dunn finished with 13 points, 11 of his points coming in the third quarter when he buried back-to-back-to-back three pointers as well as a two-point field goal.

Ripley’s senior post man Josiah Staggs fired for 12 points in the Jays’ sectional semifinal win, while Ripley’s sophomore guard Nigel Royal ended the night with 11 points.

Ripley juniors Corey Germann and Landon Dearing shot for eight points each in the win over Hillcrest.

Ripley sophomore Peyton Fyffe and senior Blue Jay Chris Reuss buried two field goals apiece to finish with four points.

Ripley senior Dalton England came off the bench to contribute three points, and junior teammate Landon Rigdon drained a three-pointer in the fourth quarter to finish with three points.

Ripley senior Jaki Royal fired for two points in the Feb. 28 win, and rounding out Ripley’s scoring against Hillcrest was junior center Alex King with two points.

“I told my guys that we have bigger goals, and we can’t reach those bigger goals without taking small steps, so this was one of our smaller steps and that’s kind of how we approached it,” Ripley coach Rex Woodward said in a post-game interview following the win over No. 10 seed Hillcrest. “We didn’t really know what to expect. We knew we were probably going to be the better team, but you have to go out and play hard for 32 minutes, regardless.”

Play would start out a little bit sloppy in Wednesday’s game, but it didn’t take long for the Jays to get things under control.

“I wasn’t too pleased,” Woodward said of his Jays’ start to Wednesday’s bout. “We kind of let things get a little hectic.”

“I was just trying to send them the message that, no matter what the situation is, you have to do your job,” Woodward added. “(And) we finally settled down.”

With the sectional finals quickly approaching, Woodward will have his Jays hard at work in the gym, preparing to face a much tougher opponent than Hillcrest while taking on James Gamble Montessori in their quest for a sectional title.