RIPLEY – Three is better than one.
The Ripley Vikings–led by the big three of Jamison Hunt (26 points), Luke Layhew (21 points and 13 rebounds) and Chase Johnson (21 points) torched the South Charleston Black Eagles in the fourth quarter, coming away with a decisive 80-67 win, despite 45 points from South Charleston guard and WVU commit Brandon Knapper. The Vikings used a 13-2 run at the start of the fourth quarter to pull away from the Black Eagles and advance to the Region 3, Section 1 title game tomorrow night against Capital.
The victory for Ripley wasn’t the only milestone on the night, as Layhew eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career with a made free throw in the second quarter. While it was certainly an important moment for the senior, the opportunity to play for a sectional championship looms even larger for both him and his team.
“It was pretty cool,” Layhew said of breaking the 1,000 point mark, “Honestly, I didn’t even realize I was doing it when it happened. It was just another point to try to win the game.”
“We played great, heck of a team effort tonight,” Layhew continued, “We played hard and executed perfectly. We have to play Capital now and they beat us earlier in the year, hopefully we can redeem ourselves a little bit.”
Viking head coach Evan Faulkner echoed the sentiments of his senior big man.
“That was a lot of fun,” Faulkner said, “Our kids played so hard, played with great toughness and togetherness. That’s what a championship team does. We’ve talked for two years about pursuing one and we’ll finally get a chance to do it [against Capital.]”
The final score wasn’t necessarily indicative of how close the game was. For the first three quarters, the Vikings and Eagles were nip and tuck. The Vikings held a slim 19-17 advantage after one, but SC outscored them 18-15 in the second quarter to take a 35-34 lead into the break. Not surprisingly, nearly all of the Black Eagle offense came from Knapper. The Vikings’ defensive game plan was totally geared around stopping the lightning quick guard, with Johnson and Logan McKinney picking him up at half court to try to funnel him into Layhew in the paint. However, Knapper was able to get to the basket and score tough basket after tough basket, keeping the Eagles within striking distance.
“He’s just so good,” Faulkner said of Knapper, “We made enough plays and slowed the rest of their guys down enough to figure it out. At this point, that’s all that matters.”
The third quarter played out much like the first two, with Ripley and SC trading baskets. Every time the Vikings threatened to stretch the lead, Knapper would answer. Hunt and Johnson hooked up on a huge alley-oop that initially swung momentum for the Vikings, but Knapper came right back with a three to even it out. Ripley did manage to outscore SC 21-17 in the quarter, taking a 55-52 lead into the fourth.
Ripley’s 13-2 run came at the outset of the final period, sparked by Layhew and Hunt. Hunt opened the quarter with a three, followed by consecutive three point plays from Layhew and Hunt to put the Vikings up 65-54. Hunt scored 17 of his 26 in the quarter as the Vikings outscored SC 25-15 to close out the victory.
After the game, Faulkner praised his team’s effort and focus in what amounted to their best all-around performance of the season.
“Our kids just came out and refused to lose,” Faulkner said, “They had a great mentality throughout the whole game. They weathered some storms. They just walked out in the fourth and said ‘hey, we aren’t losing.’”
“Winning a championship is what we want our program to be about,” Faulkner concluded, “I don’t know if we’ll win one [against Capital] or not, but we at least have the shot.”
Aside from the output of their big three, the Vikings got nine points from Eli Casto and three from McKinney to round out the scoring. Ripley shot 26 of 42 (61.9%) from the floor and 24-of-33 (72.7%) from the free throw line. The Vikings also outrebounded SC 33 to 23 on the night.
For the Eagles, Knapper’s 45 points came on 18-of-32 shooting. The next highest scorer for SC was Maybry Shaiyan with six points. As a team, SC shot 27-of-60 (45%) from the floor and just 2-of-16 (12.5%) from three.
With the win, the Vikings move on to face top-seeded Capital tomorrow night. Tip-off in the Region 3, Section 1 title game is set for 7:00 p.m. from Capital High School.