Boyd’s Miss Basketball candidate dominates
If Boyd County standout Savannah Wheeler’s not making statement enough for Miss Basketball this season, her coach is happy to make it for her.
“I’ve said all along, she’s the best player in the state,” said Lions Coach Pete Fraley after his team knocked HeraldLeader preseason No. 3 Ryle (10-1) out of the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic Saturday at Lexington Catholic with a 71-63 victory. “She’s Miss Basketball to me. I don’t know what the voters will say or whatever, but if I’m watching these games and had a vote, I’d cast it for this one right here.”
If they were watching Saturday morning, they would have seen the Marshall commit go off for 42 points in an overtime win over No. 12 Mercer County, the two-time defending state champs, in the quarterfinals.
She capped the day by scoring 40 on Ryle, last year’s 9th Region winner. Boyd County (9-1) entered the season as the Herald-Leader’s No. 8 team, according to its survey of coaches.
But it wasn’t easy, and she had plenty of help.
Down 43-36 midway through the third quarter, Boyd’s Gracie Opell and Wheeler combined for an 8-0 run to keep the Lions close as it looked like Ryle was trying to run away with it after trailing by as many as seven in the first half.
“I used a couple of timeouts early because I wanted to stop their runs,” Fraley said.
Opell hit two of her four three-pointers sandwiched around a Wheeler drive and layup. Opell’s second three put Boyd up 44-43 with just over three minutes left in the period. Both threes came on kickout passes.
“I’m just doing what I usually do - just drive and kick and that’s what we do best is shooting threes,” Wheeler said.
Opell has only been in the starting lineup a few games after another player’s injury.
“She stepped in and she has that potential to knock down those shots like she did and they were bigtime shots,” Fraley said. “They were putting a lot of attention on Savannah, and Savannah gave it up to her and she knocked them down.”
Wheeler scored 18 points in the first half with four deep three-pointers from well behind the arc as Ryle seemed to dare her to shoot.
“She sees the floor so well. And you talk about range, it’s unlimited,” Fraley said. “She hit one the other night from about 30 feet. When she’s on, she’s on. We just turn her loose.”
In the second half,
Ryle started matching up the bigger Maddie Scherr on her, one of the top high school juniors in the nation according to ESPN’s rating system.
“That was a little bit difficult for me with her size, but as soon as she went out of the game we knew that we just had to drive it more and then others stepped up,” Wheeler said.
Scherr contributed 19 points and nine rebounds, but got into foul trouble in the second half. Her fifth foul came on her third charge of the game with her team up 54-52. Ryle Coach Katie Hertz protested and was assessed a technical.
Wheeler hit both free throws to tie it at 54. On Boyd’s next possession she took a handoff in the left corner and nailed one of her seven threepointers to put the Lions up 57-54. It was the 17th and final lead change of the game.
Opell finished with 13 points, while Harley Paynter contributed 12 for Boyd. Graci Borders led the Lions with 11 rebounds. Ryle’s Lauren Schwartz, a Rice commit, led the Raiders with 25 points. Juliet McGregor contributed nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Ryle made the semifinals with an 83-54 drubbing of No. 11 Male in the morning session. The Raiders put four scorers in double digits in that game, led by Brie Crittenden’s 24 points.
Boyd advances to play HIghlands at 6:15 p.m. Sunday. Highlands beat Simon Kenton, 47-41, in Saturday’s second semifinal. Ryle will meet Simon Kenton team in the tournament’s thirdplace game at 4:30 p.m. Other consolation games begin at noon.
Both Highlands and Simon-Kenton ousted teams that might have been considered favorites over them earlier in the tournament. Simon-Kenton beat No. 1 Mercy in the quarterfinals. Highlands topped Lincoln County in the first round.
Boyd's Savannah Wheeler faces Ryle in the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic.