MURFREESBORO — With a remarkable and memorable postseason run, senior Kiera Downey and her gutsy teammates have taken the Ravenwood girls to unprecedented heights in the past three weeks.
On Wednesday morning, though, the Lady Raptors finally came to a mountain that they were unable to climb.
Playing in the state tournament for the first time in program history, Ravenwood suffered a 77-50 loss to two-time defending state champ and No. 1-ranked Riverdale in the opening round of the Class AAA tournament at the Murphy Center on the MTSU campus.
Riverdale senior Brinae Alexander, a Vanderbilt signee, scored a game-high 22 points and Aislynn Harris added 15 for the nationally-ranked Lady Warriors (34-1), who have now won 76 of their past 77 games.
State Hoops Photo Gallery – Ravenwood girls vs. Riverdale
The two-time defending champion Riverdale girls advanced to the Class AAA semifinals with a 77-50 win over Ravenwood in the Lady Raptors first state tournament appearance Wednesday, March 7, 2018 at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
Riverdale raced out to a 28-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, owned a 48-21 advantage at the half and a 68-33 lead at the end of the third while advancing to the semifinals.
For Ravenwood (22-12), the loss meant the end to a frantic postseason surge that had featured three victories over state-ranked opponents, and the team’s first-ever regional and sectional championships.
“This team never stopped believing, never stopped playing for each other,” said Ravenwood fourth-year head coach Mariska Harris. “Two and a half weeks ago (after a fourth-place finish at the District 11-AAA tournament), I don’t think you would have thought we would be in the position.”
Ravenwood senior Berkley Byron scored a team-high 13 points and junior Jaila Lee added 10 for the Lady Raptors in the loss. Taya Lee finished with eight points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Freshman Lexi Erickson added eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, for the Lady Raptors, who shot the ball effectively for much of the game — including 11-of-23 (48 percent) in the second half — but simply couldn’t slow down a Riverdale offense that came into the game averaging 73.6 points per game.
Riverdale went 19-of-34 (56 percent) from the floor, including 7-of-14 from 3-point range, in the first half while building its big lead. The Lady Warriors compiled 11 steals in the first 16 minutes and turned many of those into easy baskets. Riverdale forced a total of 17 turnovers by the Lady Raptors in the first half.
Despite the big deficit, Ravenwood played with the same fire in the second half that has been so prevalent in the past three weeks. The Lady Raptors outscored Riverdale 17-9 in the fourth quarter (which was played with a running clock) and both teams finished with 29 second-half points.
“I told the girls at halftime, what we’re playing for is bigger than the scoreboard,” said Harris. “We’re playing to put ourselves on the map and to make people recognize that this team plays hard, constantly, and they’re going to fight until the horn goes off. And we did that.”
Downey, the Lady Raptors’ star senior and the school’s all-time leading scorer, was limited to six points on 2-of-11 shooting. But she produced a team-high five assists, two steals and three rebounds.
As they’ve done throughout this remarkable postseason run, the Ravenwood girls made big play…
Downey said the memories the team has created in late February and early March will be long lasting.
“It’s been huge,” said Downey. “When I came in (to the program as a freshman), Ravenwood was 8-20 the year before and they were near the bottom in Williamson County.”
But Downey said the team has “learned to fight” over the past four years and has accomplished many of the objectives she hoped to reach, including the No. 1 item on her list.
“Coming into this year, making it to the state tournament was my goal,” she said.
Ravenwood entered Wednesday’s game — which featured the return of sophomore Jaz Harmon after a roughly two-week injury absence — with hopes of keeping the contest at a low-speed. Instead, Riverdale did what they do: They dictated the tempo.
Riverdale hit two 3-pointers in the first 90 seconds of the game, one each by Alexander and Hayes, and then used their suffocating defense to generate two big scoring runs — 9-0 and 11-2 — en route to building an early 20-point lead.
Considering what they’ve been through in recent days, both physically and emotionally, the R…
Ravenwood traded baskets with Riverdale for much of the second quarter but couldn’t put a dent in the deficit, and the Lady Warriors closed the period with five straight points for 48-21 lead.
Harris said her team was not intimidated by the Lady Warriors, but that her squad’s lack of state tourney experience — and Riverdale’s massive amount of it — was evident.
“We did a great job as far as not letting the atmosphere, the crowd, or who they were, scare us,” said Harris. “But still, a team like Riverdale, that has been here several years, and for us to be here for the first time as a program, that makes a difference.”
All the same, Ravenwood made a statement by being among the eight remaining teams in Class AAA.
“I told the girls in the locker room, what this senior class has done has created a winning culture, a winning program, and put Ravenwood on the map in terms of being known as girls basketball program,” said Harris.
Jaz festival: Many Ravenwood fans were surprised to see sophomore Jaz Harmon in uniform — and in action — on Wednesday after she had been sidelined for most of the postseason with a bone bruise. Harmon, who led the team in scoring and rebounding in the regular season, came off the bench to play 16 minutes in Wednesday’s game, finishing 1-of-4 from the floor and pulling down four rebounds. “It meant so much (to be able to play),” said Harmon. “I knew that even if I wasn’t at 100 percent, I was going to give it my all.” Harmon was cleared to play by the doctors on Tuesday, head coach Mariska Harris said.
Great crowd: Ravenwood had plenty of support on Wednesday, with students filling a large section of the stands behind the basket nearest Ravenwood’s bench. The school made provisions for the students to be absent from class, and the school brought six buses of students to the game. Riverdale likewise had a large section of students on its end of the floor.
Look out, SEC: Riverdale senior Brinae Alexander looks like she’s ready for the SEC. The Vanderbilt signee showed off both her explosiveness and her versatility in Wednesday’s game, finishing 9-of-13 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range, while scoring a game-high 22 points. The silky-smooth, 5-foot-11 combo-guard erupted for 15 points in the first quarter, going 6-of-7 from the floor. When she knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner early in the second half, the Lady Warriors’ fans chanted “S-E-C, S-E-C!” Alexander will likely make an immediate impact next year as a freshman for Vanderbilt, which posted a 7-24 record this season.
The matchup? Undefeated vs. Undermanned.
Senior moment: Wednesday’s game marked the end of the career of four seniors on the Ravenwood roster: Berkley Byron, Kiera Downey, Kristen Murray and Sierra McCoy. All four saw action in the game. Byron finished with a team-high 13 points, including a pair of 3s and Downey finished with six points and a team-high five assists. Murray, recovering from a sprained ankle that she sustained in the region tourney, pulled down six rebounds, and McCoy had one rebound and one blocked shot. Head coach Mariska Harris pulled her senior starters from the game, and let many of her young players gain state-tournament experience in the closing minutes.
Riverdale girls 77, Ravenwood 50, Class AAA State Tournament Quarterfinal
Ravenwood – 8 13 12 17 – 50
Riverdale – 28 20 20 9 - 77
Ravenwood (50) – Berkley Byron 5-8 1-1 13, Kiera Downey 2-11 2-2 6, Kirsten Murray 0-0 0-0 0, Jaila Lee 3-8 4-6 10, Taya Lee 4-5 0-0 8, Lexi Erickson 3-4 0-0 8, Mary Prestegaard 1-1 1-1 3, Jaz Harmon 1-4 0-0 2. Totals – 19-41 8-10 50.
Riverdale (77) – Alasia Hayes 5-6 0-2 13, Aislynn Hayes 7-12 0-2 15, Amanda Whittington 2-5 0-0 5, Alexis Whittington 4-11 1-2 10, Brinae Alexander 9-13 1-1 22, TK Goff 1-1 0-0 2, Hannah Egeston 0-2 0-0 0, Jalyn Holcomb 0-3 2-2 2, Alli Mayeux 0-0 5-6 5, Brylee Puckett 1-3 0-0 2, Katelyn Worley 0-2 1-2 1. Totals – 29-58 10-17 77.
3-points goals – Ravenwood 4-10 (Erickson 2-3, Byron 2-4, Downey 0-3); Riverdale 9-24 (Al. Hayes 3-4, Alexander 3-5, Ai. Hayes 1-3, Am. Whittington 1-4, Al. Whittington 1-5, Holcomb 0-1, Edgeston 0-2. Rebounds – Ravenwood 28 (J. Lee 9, Murray 6); Riverdale 25 (Al. Hayes 4). Assists – Ravenwood 6 (Downey 5); Riverdale 19 (Al. Hayes 7, Holcomb 4). Steals – Ravenwood 4 (Downey 2); Riverdale 15 (Al. Whittington 7). Blocks – Ravenwood 4 (four with one); Riverdale 4 (Alexander 2). Turnovers – Ravenwood 23; Riverdale 7. Total Fouls – Ravenwood 13; Riverdale 12. Fouled Out – none.