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Class AAA State Tournament Preview

Hoops: Ravenwood slingshot aimed at next giant as state opener looms

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Hoops – Brentwood girls vs. Ravenwood

Kiera Downey 

Ravenwood’s remarkable postseason run now faces not one, but two Goliaths. 

The Lady Raptors (22-11) reward for advancing to the program’s first state tournament is a matchup against two-time defending Class AAA champion and nationally-ranked Riverdale (33-1) on Wednesday at 10 a.m. under the bright lights at the Murphy Center on the campus of Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro.

“Obviously, if you look at Riverdale, it’s like David going against not just one Goliath, but two Goliaths,” Ravenwood coach Mariska Harris said. “At the same time, that’s what’s fun about being at the state tournament is that anything can happen. It’s about having that mindset going in, playing hard and believing.”

The Lady Raptors will definitely need more than just one stone Wednesday to knock out Riverdale, but it’s business as usual without much focus on the Lady Warriors’ impressive resume. The Ravenwood girls practiced Monday the way they normally do. They watched film similarly and held walk throughs. On Tuesday they will practice at nearby Tennessee State to help trigger summer camp memories of playing on a bigger floor like MTSU’s Murphy Center.

Wednesday is just another Goliath or two in the way of Ravenwood continuing its wild postseason run, Harris said.

“I don’t think anyone outside our team really predicted that we could make it this far, but we all know what we are capable of,” said Ravenwood senior Berkley Byron, who averages 8.9 points and leads the team in assists. “I think we are really getting our momentum now.”

The Lady Raptors entered the Region 6-AAA tournament banged up and losers of four of five games, but instead of continuing the struggle, developed a bit of a giant-killer mentality and knocked off previously unbeaten Cane Ridge in the region opener. Then they sent three-time defending region champ and two-time state qualifier Dickson County packing. Ravenwood clinched the team’s first region title by out-gunning arch-rival Brentwood 68-60 last week and finally rallied from an 8-point second-half deficit to dispatch Lebanon 59-50 in a sectional game Saturday.

“It’s been like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” said Kiera Downey, who is the Ravenwood’s all-time leading scorer, boys and girls. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season. It’s been difficult, but fun.”

Ravenwood –which will be the only Williamson County representative at state, boys or girls – has made the run without playmaker Jaz Harmon, who succumbed to a season-ending injury during the district tournament, and had to survive without senior forward Kristen Murray for a spell as well. Instead, they depended on fearless freshmen like Lexi Erickson and Jaila Lee. Erickson hit one of the biggest shots of the season in the 42-40 win against Cane Ridge and continues to impress with her poise in the chaos of tight games, while Lee has emerged as another spark offensively and defensive stopper.

“I think it’s a good thing that some of these girls are young because they don’t know a lot about Riverdale and the their history,” Harris said. “My freshmen are fearless and tough. They believe that anything can happen and that’s what we keep preparing them for.”

The Lady Warriors go more than 10 deep with Vanderbilt signee Brinae Alexander as a primary weapon. The 5-foot-11 combo guard has helped guide the veteran team to wins in 75 of their last 76 games. The Lady Warriors lone loss in the last two seasons was a 64-50 setback in the Nike Tournament of Champions semifinals in December against Archbishop Mitty High School of California – the unbeaten, top-ranked team in the nation according to MaxPreps. Seniors Alexis and Amanda Wittington along with the younger Hayes sisters, Aislynn and Alasia, also cause opponents plenty of headaches. The twin Wittington sisters are MTSU commits, while Aislynn holds a University of Tennessee offer among others.

Riverdale enters averaging 73.6 points per game, nearly 22 more than Ravenwood.

“We won our first region championship, hosted our first substate and won and found out we are ranked in the top 10 on our way to get here,” Harris said. “We are not settling just to get here. We want to come into Wednesday and compete to win.”

Downey isn’t intimidated and she says her teammates aren’t either.

“It’s a bit daunting of course, but we can’t be scared,” she said. “We are going to be prepared and come out and not be scared.

"Anyone can be beaten on any given day. I think we’ve proved that.”

The Williamson Herald will have full coverage from the state tournament Wednesday.

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