BRENTWOOD – For the first time since 2012, the Ravenwood High School boys basketball team will play for the District 11-AAA championship.
The Raptors produced a gritty performance on the road and muscled past rival Brentwood 51-44 in the district semifinals on Tuesday night.
“We talked about toughness a lot this week,” Ravenwood coach Patrick Whitlock said. “Jay Bilas put out an article a few years ago and he said toughness isn’t just going out and putting guys on the floor, it’s running the floor, it’s blocking out on defense, it’s diving on the floor, it’s taking a charge, it’s supporting your teammates. And so in practice this week, every time we had a kid make a toughness play, everybody else on the team would yell, ‘Toughness.’
“We just really focused on those little things coming in and showing a little bit of grit. This is a huge win for us.”
Beyond taking the Raptors to the district title game Wednesday night at top-seeded and No. 4-ranked Franklin, Ravenwood earned a home game Saturday in the first round of the Region 6-AAA tournament thanks to those toughness-style plays.
“Our energy was there from the beginning,” said Raptors junior Noah Clifford, who scored 12 points and dished out a variety of nifty passes from the post all night. “My teammates found me a lot better today and with their cutting, they made me look good.
"We were just fired up and we switched up our defense and really used that to our advantage."
Alex English and Jake Mulder each added eight points, while Ben Bonga and Matt Williams contributed six apiece in the balanced scoring effort for Ravenwood. The Raptors gained some separation early and staked a 19-14 lead at halftime in a chess match affair. Both teams struggled to find much offense, but Ravenwood had the breakthrough with Clifford in the middle and Nick Dang handling the ball.
A Williams 3 pushed the lead to its biggest at 30-18 with 2:49 to play in the third. Brentwood scored the next five points on three free throws and a Davis White steal and layup, but Connor English slipped behind the defense and Clifford hit his open teammate for a layup to end the frame with Raptors on top 32-23.
Good ball movement late and Connor English slips behind the defense for a layup. The Ravenwood boys lead at Brentwood 32-23 at the end of the 3rd. The last shot of the frame —> pic.twitter.com/B6vPoCkuuI— Charles Pulliam (@cspulliam) February 24, 2021
“As a coach, I was really embarrassed by our effort last time we were here about 20 days ago and it was in the back of our minds,” Whitlock said. “We used that to try and get better and we adjusted our game plan.”
That game plan revolved around containing Brentwood standouts John Windley and Griffin Burke. Dang shadowed Windley most of the night in a physical battle, while the longer Lee Molette harassed Burke.
“They still stepped up and made some shots and they've got some really good personnel around them, but, you know, we stuck to the plan and did our best to stop them,” Whitlock said.
Windley closed with 11, while Burke had 11 as well, including a couple deep fourth-quarter 3-pointers as the Bruins made one last stand.
“We definitely put ourselves in a hole early and kind of made it tough on ourselves,” Burke said. “Our shots weren't falling like usual and really, it just wasn’t our night.”
After Ravenwood scored on back-to-back possessions on a Clifford feed to Mulder and a Clifford spin on the block, Ravenwood’s sold-out section of fans ignited and didn’t let up – all 150 of them. The Raptors led 38-36 with 5:03 remaining. The slightly larger crowd has been allowed in Williamson County because of new attendance limitations and made a difference.
“I noticed it when I couldn’t hear any of coach Shirley’s play calls,” Burke said of the atmosphere.
“It’s great having some of the students back,” Whitlock added. “Our fans, our community were fantastic tonight.”
Burke responded to the early surge by Ravenwood in the fourth with a deep 3-pointer from in front of the Brentwood bench. The Raptors tacked on two more free throws, but Jake Brock nailed another triple after a Daniel Cochran offensive rebound to lift the home team within 40-32 at the 3:27 mark. The lead pushed back to 10 twice, including on a Trevor Andrews breakaway with 2:03 left that made it 45-35, but the Bruins didn’t go away.
Cochran hit two at the line and Burke drilled another long-range bomb to make it 45-40 with 93 seconds left in the contest.
“The one thing I know for sure about these young men is the character and pride they have,” Brentwood coach Greg Shirley said. “This is where those tough lessons are learned. It was a tough one out there, but we remained resilient.”
Dang scored his only points of the night on two free throws six seconds after Burke’s big 3, and after Ravenwood came away empty on three looks, Cochran added another free throw to make it 47-41 with under a minute to play, but Brentwood got no closer. Bonga’s freebies with 31 seconds remaining sealed the win.
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The victory avenged a 50-47 loss in early January and a 61-48 setback at Brentwood just under three weeks ago for the Raptors. They split the regular season series with Franklin and were the last team to top the Admirals, who are riding a 22-game win streak after downing Page 65-43 Tuesday.
Just three points have decided the two meetings between the district finalists with Franklin winning the last 69-68 at home on Jan. 22.
“I’m just excited,” Clifford said. “It’s my first district championship game. We wouldn’t be here without all the hard work from everyone.”
Brentwood hosts Page Wednesday night for third place. Both teams will be on the road to open region play.
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Ravenwood boys 51, Brentwood 44, District 11-AAA Semifinal
RHS 11 8 13 19 – 51
BHS 10 4 9 21 – 44
RHS (51) – Matt Williams 6, Lee Molette 4, Nick Dang 2, Andrew Lamuno 1, Trevor Andrews 4, Ben Bonga 6, Alex English 8, Jake Mulder 8, Noah Clifford 12.
BHS (44) – John Windley 11, Griffin Burke 11, Jake Brock 3, Davis White 2, Macen Redner 4, Daniel Cochran 11, Dustin Bluhm 2.
3-pointers – RHS 4 (English 2, Williams 2), BHS 8 (Burke 3, Cochran 2, Windley, Brock, Redner). Total Fouls – RHS 16, BHS 18. Fouled Out – None.