Cardinal Ritter had an answer for everything. It gave a steal for a steal, and a point for a point, a reaction for every action.
As a result, the Lions overcame the Charleston High School Blue Jays, 67-55, in the state championship game for Class 3 basketball.
For Cardinal Ritter (28-3), the answer took the form of junior DeAndre Gilmore.
At one point in the fourth quarter, the momentum of the game threatened to switch over to Charleston. Then Gilmore drew a foul. Standing at the free-throw line, he hit both free throws and maintained the momentum for his team.
It was not the first time.
Gilmore was the leading scorer in the game, with 23 points. Although closely followed by senior teammate Marquis Jones, who had 22 points, he made the shots when most needed.
“I had to step up,” Gilmore said.
Jones fouled out with 3:51 left in the game and Charleston within six points. Gilmore took care of business on his own though. He finished the game having made 12-of-14 free throws, six of them in the fourth quarter. Gilmore managed to keep the game in his hands.
“We pride ourselves on defense because we are not the biggest team in the world,” Cardinal Ritter coach Marvin Neals said.
Charleston continued to play hard in the third and fourth quarters. Their fans stayed seated for the majority of the second half, half the cheerleaders stayed seated as well, and their mascot, the blue jay, did not even look at the game.
“You have got to be able to reach back and get it at the end of the game,” Neals said. “We were playing for a championship.”
And get it they did. Cardinal Ritter won its first championship since 2003. It was also its first time back in the tournament. Charleston, on the other hand, has been in the tournament every year since 2003. This was the second year in a row that it finished second.
“I thought Cardinal Ritter played a great game,” Charleston coach Danny Farmer said. “They were by far the better team tonight, but I think our chances for coming back next year are pretty good.”
CLASS 1 BOYS
Jefferson 74, Bell City 61
Senior Jared Davis scored 15 points and hit two 3-pointers in less than a minute late in the fourth quarter to lift Jefferson on Saturday.
Senior Matt Jenkins led the Eagles (32-0) with 18 points, senior Todd Mattson had 12 and senior Kody Schieber added 11.
Jefferson, champions in 2000, has not lost a game since last year’s championship and has won all but two games this season by more than double-digits.