By Terry Boehmker
UNION, Ky. – Ryle boys’ basketball players started hugging, high-fiving and chest bumping each other after the final horn sounded in the 33rd District championship game on Friday.
And Ryle first-year head coach David McFarland was right in the middle of the crazy celebration following his team’s 60-55 win over Conner in the title game.
Instead of going through a difficult transition period in his first season as a head coach, McFarland will be taking the Raiders to the 9th Region Tournament next week at the Bank of Kentucky Center.
“I just knew if I pour my heart into it and our guys pour their hearts into it that great things would happen,” McFarland said. “It’s been a fun ride and I’m very honored to be here. Hopefully, we can go to the Bank of Kentucky Center and keep it going.”
It did take the Raiders some time to adjust to the new coach. They had a 7-11 record three weeks ago, but they’ve now won seven straight games and the team’s confidence level is soaring.
“Ever since day one, we’ve worked our tails off in practice,” said Ryle senior center Will Stuhr. “It took a lot of sweat to get to this point, but we finally did it.”
Stuhr scored 16 points in the district final and was named the tournament’s most valuable player. But the Ryle offense doesn’t revolve around the bulky, 6-foot-5 center, or any other player for that matter.
The Raiders run a motion offense that keeps the ball moving until any player gets open for a good shot. They did that well enough in the district final to outscore Conner, 44-36, on field goals alone.
“Our guys are so unselfish,” McFarland said. “They don’t care who scores as long as we score. That a big tribute to our guys and the reason we’re able to accomplish things like we did (Friday).”
It was a close game until late in the third quarter when Conner went nearly three minutes without scoring a single point. Ryle made the most of that opportunity and had a 49-43 lead at the end of the period.
Conner had to play most of the third quarter without senior guard Will Ruholt, who scored 15 points in the first half before hobbling off the court with a sprained left ankle. But coach Jim Hicks didn’t cite that as a reason for his team’s three-minute scoring drought.
“Well, you’ve got to know that’s the Ryle defense,” Hicks said. “They really got after us and pressured us hard. They got after our scorers and they didn’t let us drive to the rim. And when we did get to the rim, they contested our shots. It was just great defense on their part.”
Poor free throw shooting hampered Conner’s changes of mounting a comeback in the fourth quarter. The Cougars were 1-for-9 at the line during that period and trailed by as much at nine points (57-48) in the final minute.
“We’ve never missed nine free throws in a row like that,” Hicks said. “And it’s hard to win ball games if you can’t knock down free throws.”
Both district finalists advance to the next round of the playoffs so Conner will be making its first appearance in the 9th Region Tournament since 2008. The draw to determine first-round pairings will be held either Saturday night or Sunday morning.
CONNER 14-18-11-12 – 55
at RYLE 13-19-17-11 – 60
CONNER (11-14): Scott 2 2 7, Way 1 3 5, Ruholt 5 4 17, Lamblez 5 3 13, Hemmerich 5 2 13. Totals: 18 14 55.
RYLE (14-11): Allen 1 1 3, Owens 2 1 5, Puthoff 4 0 11, Bellew 4 0 8, White 6 3 17, Stuhr 5 6 16. Totals: 22 11 60.
3-pointer: C–Ruholt 3, Hemmerich, Scott. R–Puthoff 3, White 2.
ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: Ryle – Will Stuhr (MVP), Jake Puthoff, Tanner White. Conner – Sam Hemmerich, Will Ruholt. Boone County – Brenden Stanley. Cooper – Zach McNeil. Heritage – Dan Vargas.