Irish go on 9-0 run to cut deficit to three in fourth, but Kenton Ridge hangs on in season opener.
SPRINGFIELD — Kenton Ridge has talent, experience and depth and is hoping for one of its best seasons in recent years. If the first three quarters of the Cougars’ season opener against Catholic Central are an indication of things to come, it could be a banner year. But the fourth quarter showed work remains.
The Cougars took an earlier lead on Friday and expanded it to 12 points by the end of the third quarter. But Central forced a flurry a turnovers and went on a 9-0 run over a seven-minute stretch in the fourth to cut the Cougars’ lead to three points.
But Kenton Ridge held on in the final minute. Scotty Blackburn hit a reverse layup with 1:07 left to end a seven-minute scoring drought, then Kenton Ridge added more insurance from the free-throw line.
“We played not to lose there in the fourth instead of playing to win,” Kenton Ridge head coach Kris Spriggs said. “We made some bad decisions in passing, which turned into easy points for them. But we were able to get the win, and that’s what matters. I thought defensively we played pretty well.”
Kenton Ridge has a few players who’ve barely worn in their sneakers this season. Bailey, senior guard Isaiah Charlton and senior center Caleb King where still playing football for Kenton Ridge two weeks ago. All three started on Friday night. Backup guard Jayden Davis and forward Matt Ricketts were also key football players.
“Offensively, with the success that football had, we’re a little behind,” Spriggs said. “I’ve always told the kids that basketball is a game of repetitions. The more you do it, the better you become at it. Some of these guys are two weeks behind, really a couple of months behind with no fall open gyms or conditioning.”
Despite problems putting Central away, the Cougars led the entire game. Bailey, a senior guard, scored 8 of his game-high 17 points in the first half to help Kenton Ridge build a 27-22 lead at halftime.
Bailey hit a three midway through the third to boost the lead to nine points, and the Cougars pulled away to a 42-30 lead by the end of the third. But Central made a couple of layups off of steals in the fourth, and held the Cougars scoreless until Blackburn’s basket.
Catholic Central is in its first year under new head coach Mitch McCurdy, who takes over for Dan Shay. Shay resigned last summer to focus on his duties as Central’s athletics director. McCurdy didn’t know what to expect out of the team after trailing by 12 points, but he was happy to see resiliency in the fourth.
“After they got down, I didn’t know if the guys were going to turn it in or not,” McCurdy said. “This has been our first 30 days together. The fact that they kept fighting makes me proud. I know I can trust these guys now. We’ve got a lot to build off of. These kids just played so hard.”
Zack Young led Catholic Central with 12 points, six of which came from the foul line. Timmy Weeks added 10 points and six rebounds, and point guard Thomas Kavanagh scored nine.
McCurdy said the team has a lot of leaders and is going to improve on offense in the coming weeks.
“There’s plenty we’ve got to improve on, including our shot selection, but that’s what practice is for,” McCurdy said. “We’re going to be able to finish games like this in the future.”
Bailey was Kenton Ridge’s go-to scorer last season and looks to be this year as well. But Kenton Ridge has other scoring options, which Spriggs hopes will help lead to more wins this year. Junior Austin Wallace hit three key three-pointers for nine points on Friday, and junior forward Cameron Kettler scored eight points. Senior Brent Morris also added eight points for Kenton Ridge.
“This is Jordan’s third year of playing varsity basketball, so he’s been thrown to the fire before,” Spriggs said. “He hit some big shots for us, and he does a nice job at point guard.
“With every year comes a new challenge as far as chemistry and kids finding that niche. Effort-wise we were there, and we had some other guys step up scoring and on defense… Austin (Wallace) got some varsity experience last year and made some big shots tonight, and hopefully he continues.”
The Cougars play another OHC team in nonconference play on Tuesday when they travel to West Liberty-Salem. Catholic Central plays next on Tuesday at home against Yellow Springs.