By CHIP CIRILLO
MURFREESBORO – Ravenwood ran into a nationally-ranked powerhouse that played like a powerhouse in its first state tournament appearance.
The Lady Raptors lost 77-50 to Riverdale, ranked fourth in the USA Today Super 25, in a Class AAA quarterfinal at Murphy Center on Wednesday morning.
Riverdale (34-1) was especially tough on defense, as it made 15 steals while constantly pressuring Ravenwood ballhandlers.
The Lady Warriors outscored the Lady Raptors 27-8 in points off turnovers.
“It’s full-court-pressure, it’s in-your-face trapping,” Ravenwood coach Mariska Harris said. “They’re a tough team. They’re very athletic, long. They’re deep, which helps when you’re pressing like that.”
Berkley Byron led the Lady Raptors (21-12) with 13 points, but she made seven turnovers. Freshman Jaila Lee added 10 points.
Kiera Downey, Ravenwood’s career scoring leader, was held to six points on 2 of 11 shooting.
“We got a good scout on her,” Riverdale guard Alexis Whittington said. “Coach told me what she liked to do is step back and I just remembered it and the plays they run.”
Riverdale forward Brinae Alexander said several of the Lady Warriors have competed against Downey in AAU since about fourth grade.
“We’re real close to her,” said Alexander, a Vanderbilt signee who led Riverdale with 22 points on 9 of 13 shooting, including three 3-pointers. “Basically, grew up playing basketball with her. She’s really good. Her favorite move is that step back.”
All five of Riverdale’s starters play for the Tennessee Flight travel team.
Ravenwood packed its defense inside, but Riverdale hit 9 of 24 shots from 3-point range, including 5 of its first 8.
“We were going to take away the penetration and the inside,” Harris said. “They can knock down 3’s and I knew they would, but I figured pick my poison. They shot lights out.”
Riverdale’s Aislynn Hayes added 15 points and her younger sister, Alasia, added 13 and seven assists. Middle Tennessee signee Alexis Whittington had 10 points.
Ravenwood fell behind 28-8 after the first quarter, as the Lady Warriors hit 11 of their first 17 shots from the field. Riverdale built its lead to as high as 36 points late in the third quarter.
The Lady Warriors led 72-38 when Riverdale coach Randy Coffman took his starters out with 5:55 left.
“We’ve really tried to emphasize the last six weeks getting better on the defensive side and making possessions tough,” Coffman said. “You get on a run like we do, and you make two or three shots in a row because we’ve got some great talent sitting beside me over here. Then, you turn around on the other end and make that next possession as hard as it can be. And I thought our kids were really good at that today.”
Despite the loss, Ravenwood accomplished a lot this season.
“I’m proud of how we have managed to do a lot of firsts this year with the region championship, the (sectional) championship and now being in the state tournament for the first time,” Harris said. “Two and a half weeks ago, I don’t think you probably would have thought we’d be in this position, but this team never stopped believing.”
Ravenwood won four straight after finishing fourth in the District 11-AAA Tournament.
The Lady Raptors were the only team at the state tournament making its first appearance.
“Establishing a program and a culture is the first big step,” Harris said.
Downey departs as the Lady Raptors’ career scoring leader.
“She’s put us on the map and the career that she’s had is unbelievable,” Harris said. “I think everybody in the state of Tennessee knows who Kiera Downey is, and if you don’t, you definitely just don’t know girls basketball. She started since Day One and played significant minutes.”
Downey arrived one year after Ravenwood went 9-18, finishing near the bottom of Williamson County.
“My freshman year we were (19-9) and we made it to region,” Downey said. “The next year we made it to (sectionals) and it just kept going. We had a down year last year, but we only had eight players. This year, making it to the state tournament was my goal.”
Ravenwood’s Taya Lee barely missed a double-double with nine rebounds and eight points.
Ravenwood’s Jazmyn Harmon returned to the lineup for 13 minutes after missing part of the postseason with a bone bruise in her ankle.
“Coach played me, but she didn’t push me as hard as I usually would be pushed,” Harmon said.
Two wins from a three-peat, Riverdale faces Bearden (29-7) in Friday’s semifinals.
“I think (the target) gets heavier every year just because everybody would rather see us fail than to succeed,” said Alexander, a Miss Basketball finalist.
And why is that?
“Because we’re Riverdale,” Alexander said.
The Lady Warriors are seeking their seventh state championship. Only Shelbyville (12), Clarkrange (eight) and Jackson County (eight) have won more.
Riverdale’s only loss was to top-ranked Mitty (Calif.) on Dec. 21.
The Lady Warriors improved to 23-2 in state tournament games.