(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
RISCO -- After the cheering died down, the pictures were taken and the celebration ended, Risco was quickly reminded that their quest wasn't over.
Although the Tigers took care of the Gideon Bulldogs 88-72 for their third straight Class 1, District 1 championship on Thursday night, thoughts of the Scott County Central Braves crept into their minds. The score 108-41 showed up on the scoreboard as a glaring reminder of what happened last season when the Braves blistered Risco en route to their third straight state championship.
"The state championship road still runs through them," Risco head coach Brandon Blankenship said. "I know they lost a few guys to graduation, but their still wanting to protect what's theirs. We're tickled to get to that spot. It's where we want to be."
Although Risco has experienced three years of district bliss, it's been followed with nothing but eventual heartaches the previous two.
"Three times in-a-row is really nice," Risco senior Luke Bixler said. "But, this is just the beginning of our journey. They've ruined our chances two years in a row. This is our comeback year. We're coming after them."
The Tigers think if they can go the same speed, continue their balanced scoring and play with the same intensity they did against Gideon, their dreadful streak could possibly come to an end.
"We've got the speed and we've got the ability to do well," Bixler said. "Hopefully, it works out for us."
Risco, who surpassed their school record for wins with a standing record of 24-3, hit 10 3-pointers and had five players in double figures against Gideon, who felt the wrath of the Tiger's quick and frenzied pace for the third time this year.
"That was our third game in four nights and against team like Risco, who has so many weapons and are so quick and athletic, that probably didn't help us much," Gideon head coach Jim Breece said. "Their just so multi-talented in weapons. Our strength is inside and they kind of got us out of our game plan a little bit. They sped it up and took that away from us."
Despite the ball handling of Gideon's sure-handed point guard Corey Goin, the pressure defense applied by Risco was enough to force Gideon into 25 turnovers.
"We wanted to pressure their guards. Make them mad, make them cough it up and make it so they have to work to do everything and by the fourth quarter they'll be sucking wind," said Pavy.
"That's what we have to rely on," Blankenship said. "We've got to rely on speed, ball handlers, pushing the ball and just trying to outrun teams. That's what we've tried to do all year. We try to push and try to get the score in the 80's and 90's."
Almost immediately when the ball was in their possession, the Tigers sprinted downcourt looking for any and every opportunity to score.
"I feel like that's our bread and butter," Pavy said about their torrid pace.
In the first half, Risco chose to shoot from behind the arc.
Facing Gideon's zone defense, the Tigers pumped out 14 3-point attempts in the first quarter knocking down three of them. Six different players scored for Risco in the first quarter as they took a slim 18-16 lead on 7 of 18 shooting from the floor.
"We started off kind of slow, honestly," Bixler said. "After they got a couple of easy points we started pushing the ball up court. Not as well as we wanted to, but we got the job done."
Continuing to show no hesitation from 3-point land, Risco went 4 of 12 from the arc and 11 of 25 altogether from the field.
"We've got confidence in those guys to hit them," Blankenship said. "You live by the three or die by the three sometimes. If you're hitting them, great. If not, it may make for a long night. I never want them hesitating so if they have the open look, we want them going for it."
As the game went on, Risco's barrage of early 3-point attempts became an advantage for them. Gideon's defense seemed to spread the floor a bit more, giving the lightening quick Tigers room to drive towards the basket.
"We've got all kinds of shooters," Bixler said. "Everybody can put the ball in the hole. Our game plan was to get the ball in the middle when they left a spot open. It just gave us opportunities for our 3-point shooters to shoot the ball.
"We just wanted to balance in driving to the goal and shooting three's. If we can balance those two out, we're in pretty good shape most of the time."
Brandon Bixler, who entered from the bench, was a big lift to the Tigers as an inside presence snatching both offensive and defensive rebounds and putting up eight points in the second quarter.
A 10-4 run to end the second frame helped Risco take a 45-32 lead into halftime. The Tigers shot 18 of 43 in the first half and were 7 of 26 on 3-pointers.
"We did shoot too much from the three," Pavy admitted. "But, I think we knocked enough of them down. We rebounded off a few of those three's too, which really got us up. We started driving and kicking too, which really helped out a lot."
Although momentum was with Risco and their raucous crowd kept them energized, Gideon (15-11) never backed down. The Bulldogs outscored Risco 23-14 in the quarter which included an 11-4 run within the last three and a half minutes.
Gideon's Matt Sharp scored six of their 11 during the run and the Bulldogs sliced Risco's lead to just four points, 59-55 at the end of the third quarter.
"We kept their runs in check for most of the night," Breece said. "They didn't get a lot of easy buckets. We keyed on that a lot. We gave a great effort and I don't think our kids quit for one second."
The Bulldogs couldn't carry over their hot streak into the fourth quarter. Pavy started things off with five straight points for the Tigers. Three made free throws because of a foul during a 3-pointer from Bixler pushed Risco's lead back to 10. The Tigers went on a 13-2 run after that giving them an 82-64 advantage.
They helped their own cause by going a cool 15 of 16 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
"Hat's off to Gideon," Blankenship said. "I thought they brought it tonight. They wouldn't go away for sure. They're big, physical and played hard. It was definitely a hard-earned victory."
Blake Buchanan and Andrew Rinehart led Gideon with 21 and 20 points respectively. Goin added 10.
Risco was led by Jeremey Fowler's 19 points, who nailed four 3-pointers and hit 7 of 8 free throws. Pavy and Bixler each scored 16 points while Brandon Bixler and Jordon Pavy chipped in 14 and 12.
On Tuesday, Risco will have their third straight shot at downing the three-time defending Class 1 champions at the Bearcat Event Center in Dexter. Scott County Central downed Oak Ridge 68-54 on Thursday as well to set up the Sectional showdown.
"At no means are we stopping," Pavy said. "We have a state title in mind. We'll celebrate tonight and move on in the morning to work towards the state tournament. We match up with them better this time. They may have just a couple inches on us inside and that's it.
"I think we're going to beat them."
GIDEON (72) -- Corey Goin 10, Blake Buchanan 21, Zack Ingram 8, Andrew Rinehart 20, Matt Sharp 8, Cody Groves 5. FG 27 FT 15-26 F 23 (3-pointers: Buchanan 4, Rinehart 1. Fouled out: Sharp, Groves.)
RISCO (88) -- Luke Bixler 16, Chris Pavy 16, Austin White 7, Jordon Pavy 12, Jeremey Fowler 19, Matt Cumins 2, Hunter Knight 2, Brandon Bixler 14. FG 29 FT 20-27 F 22 (3-pointers: L. Bixler 1, C. Pavy 1, White 1, J. Pavy 3, Fowler 4. Fouled out: none.)