By Terry Boehmker
NKy Tribune sports reporter
The stage was set for a stunning upset when Ryle took an eight-point lead over Holmes early in the fourth quarter of the 9th Region girls’ basketball championship game on Sunday at BB&T Arena.
Ryle forward Jenna Carothers, left, blocks a shot by Holmes guard Jynea Harris during the 9th Region championship game. (Photo by Jackson Sports Photography)
Holmes, the top-ranked team in Northern Kentucky, and had not lost to a local opponent all season, but Ryle had just run off five straight points to take control of the title game.
That’s when Holmes coach Tony Perkins called a timeout to give his players a chance to regroup and they launched a comeback that resulted in a 45-42 win.
“We called a timeout and said, ‘Girls, just slow down. If we just take our time we can win this,’” said Holmes senior guard Jynea Harris. “So that’s what we did. When we had the ball, we didn’t rush it. We didn’t throw any more bad passes and we didn’t foul.”
The Bulldogs claimed their first regional championship since 2002 with the victory and earned a berth in the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA “Sweet 16” state tournament that will be played in Northern Kentucky for the first time.
Holmes will take on Russell, the 16th Region champion, in the opening round at 8 p.m. Wednesday at BB&T Arena. Advance tickets are available at the arena for $11. Tickets at the door will be $13.
Last year, Holy Cross beat Holmes in the 9th Region final and went on to become the first Northern Kentucky girls’ basketball team to win the state tournament. Harris said the Bulldogs have worked hard to get their shot at a state title this season.
“This is an unexplainable feeling to be honest with you,” she said after Sunday’s win. “Last year, we were hurt because we lost to the state champions. But we built from that. We worked non-stop in the gym for this.”
Harris made two free throws to put Holmes ahead, 44-42, with 52 seconds left in Sunday’s regional final. That was only the third time the Bulldogs took the lead in the game.
Holmes senior guard Jynea Harris. (Photo by Jackson Sports Photography)
After Ryle missed a shot in the lane, Holmes junior forward Tyrah Engelmon made a free throw that extended her team’s lead to 45-42 with 18 seconds left.
Ryle called a timeout to set up a final play. The ball went to senior Mallory Schwartz and she launched a 3-point attempt that bounced high off the rim as time expired.
“I’m proud of the way they played,” Ryle coach Katie Haitz said of her team. “They were right in there until the end. We got our last shot set up the way we were hoping. We got Mallory the ball to shoot it and it just didn’t fall.”
Ryle handled the full-court defensive pressure that Holmes usually relies on to get transition baskets. That forced the Bulldogs into playing a half-court game and they had trouble scoring against the Raiders’ zone defense.
“We didn’t shoot the ball very well, but our girls battled and didn’t give up and made plays when they had to,” coach Perkins said.
Holmes made 16 of 26 free throws to offset shooting just 28.8 percent (13 of 45) from the field. In the final minutes, the Bulldogs scored eight of their last 10 points at the foul line.
Ryle was 3-for-9 at the line, but Haitz didn’t criticize the officiating for the discrepancy in fouls called against the two teams.
“It is what it is,” she said. “You can’t control what the refs decided to do.”
Harris finished with a game-high 14 points for the Bulldogs and was named most valuable player on the all-tournament team. Ryle’s leading scorer was Schwartz with 13 points.
Harris is looking forward to finishing her high school career playing in her first state tournament next week.
“I feel like we are ready for state,” she said. “We need to get back in the gym and practice and get focused, and then I feel like we can make it pretty far.”
HOLMES 10 10 8 17 — 45
RYLE 10 12 10 10 — 42
HOLMES (28-4): Brown 3 3 9, Harris 4 5 14, Graham 1 1 4, Stovall 2 6 11, Johnson 2 0 4, Englemon 1 1 3. Totals: 13 16 45.
RYLE (24-7): Scherr 3 1 7, Jones 2 0 5, M. Schwartz 6 1 13, L. Schwartz 3 1 7, Jump 1 0 2, Carothers 3 0 6, Lange 1 0 2. Totals: 19 3 42.
3-pointers: H — Harris, Graham, Stovall. R — Jones.
Holmes — Jynea Harris (MVP), Tyrah Englemon, Jaynice Stovall. Ryle — Mallory Schwartz, Maddie Scherr. Conner — Taylor Gambrel, Hunter Hendricks. Highlands — Brianna Adler, McKenzie Leigh. Dixie Heights — Riley East. Newport — Shaunye Stanley. St. Henry — Sydney Millay. Holy Cross — Dajah McClendon