STORY AND PHOTO BY JAKE DONOVAN
On a night when their floor general was an injury scratch and its top shooter was held relatively quiet for nearly three quarters, Franklin still managed to walk away with a victory.
The Lady Rebels overcame internal adversity in propelling to a 51-35 win over the Cane Ridge Lady Ravens in Thursday’s opening round of the Middle Tennessee Invitational Tournament at Franklin High School.
Kate O’Neil registered her second consecutive double-double, producing 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Lady Rebels. Rising freshman Sydney Ryan overcame a sluggish start to lead all scorers with 20 points in the win.
“I thought we came out ready to play. We were excited about playing in our own gym, and it showed tonight,” Franklin head coach John Wild told Home Page. “We played unselfish ball tonight, we took great shots even if they all didn’t quite fall.”
The first shot of the game to fall came from Geneva Vann (8 points), the lone returning starter from a Lady Ravens squad who won the District 12-AAA tournament one year ago. The junior playmaker drained a triple to give visiting Cane Ridge what would turn out to be its only lead of the night.
Whereas Vann had the hot hand early, Cane Ridge became just the latest in a lengthy list of programs who’ve struggled to contain O’Neil. The sophomore center provided a much needed spark for a Lady Rebels squad without its senior point guard Jillian King, who remains sidelined as she continues to recover from a head injury sustained in a December 21 win over Independence.
O’Neil picked up the slack on offense, dropping 12 of her 19 points in the first half.
“Kate’s progressing really nicely,” notes Wild. “She’s grown leaps and bounds. I’d like for her to be a little more aggressive around the rim. At times when she has looks, she’s a bit too unselfish. But she’s a presence under the boards and was a big key tonight.”
Getting the ball to O’Neil was the all-freshmen backcourt of Bergen Allee (3 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) and Jean Costello (2 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals). They worked the ball inside often, leading to O’Neil finding the basket at least once in all four quarters of play.
“We’ve been really focusing on talking to each other on the court and playing as a team,” pointed out O’Neil. “We did a really good job of that tonight. We knew we were going to be without Jillian, so it was just about all of us stepping up.”
That intangible proved to separate the otherwise two very young ball clubs, both of whom lost a lot of talent from a year ago.
“This is the one year that we had to teach so much. Years past, we had more senior leadership,” admits veteran Cane Ridge head coach Joann Tribue. “This year, we’re really starting from step one, especially with Geneva as our only returning starter. We’re learning every game, we’re getting better as a team.”
It was learning lessons through three quarters for the Lady Ravens, whose tenacious defense was the only thing keeping them in the game on a night when shots just weren’t finding the bottom of the net. The Lady Rebels offered a far more balanced attack on both sides of the court, even if it didn’t always translate into points, particularly for the team’s most prolific scorer this young season.
“I had no clue what was going on but the ball wasn’t going in the basket in the first half,” admitted Ryan, who was held to 8 points through three quarters of play. “I just told myself, ‘first half is over, time to get going in the second half.’ My shot started falling from there.”
They fell in a big way for the 5’10” freshman in the final eight minutes, where she scored 12 of her game-high 20 points. Her hot hand came at the right time, the final contributing factor to an all-around team effort while King was forced to watch in street clothes.
“It stinks to have such a good player like Jillian not being able to play, but I thought we played well,” Ryan said of her team’s overall play. “Kate did awesome tonight, busting her butt up and down the floor tonight. Darcy (Doran – 5 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals) played great. Jean and Bergen had some great passes. We did really good as a team.”
While the Lady Ravens trailed the entire game, they never stopped trying to chip away at Franklin’s lead. Junior transfer Taylor Allen (8 points) found her way to the basket on back-to-back possessions bridging the 3rd and 4th quarters, mere moments after nearly having to come out of the game.
“It was kind of hard to get through the adversity,” admitted Allen. “I didn’t come in the game with a good mindset. Coach told me, ‘No one cares about your attitude, you gotta push through it.’ So I pushed through, and focused on my task.”
One major task for Allen was to contain the red-hot Ryan, which she managed to do for much of the night. Six days after exploding for 31 versus Independence, Ryan eventually found her way to the basket in scoring 12 of her 20 in the 4th quarter.
“They are very athletic and are very quick. I admit, I was a little worried,” confessed Ryan. “We’re not as athletic as they are, and not quite as swift of foot. But we went ahead (early) and stayed ahead throughout the game.”
With the loss, Cane Ridge is forced to the consolation bracket, where they will face Father Ryan on Friday.
As for Franklin, their road to the tournament finals now runs through Nolensville. Friday’s semifinals matchup is a rematch of their meeting earlier this month, with the Lady Knights—whom bested Father Ryan 39-30 on Thursday—doubling up the Lady Rebels in a 49-24 home win.
“Chris (Ladd, Nolensville head coach) does a great job with that program,” Wild said of his Friday opponent. “They’re a team I look to make a long run in the playoffs; they have a great chance of going all the way to the state tournament, if I’m being honest.”
For now, they stand in each other’s way of advancing to Saturday’s finals.