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Cardinal Ritter blows past Charleston to win eighth state championship

Cardinal Ritter blows past Charleston to win eighth state championship

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Cardinal Ritter vs. Charleston

Cardinal Ritter's Brandon Ellington (left) and Garry Clark celebrate after walking off the floor in the fourth quarter during the Class 3 boys championship basketball game against Charleston on Saturday, March 14, 2020, at JQH Arena in Springfield, Mo. Randy Kemp | Special to

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Ryan Johnson had a pre-game speech prepared.

The Cardinal Ritter boys basketball coach was ready to speak to his team in the locker room minutes before Saturday's Class 3 state championship game against Charleston.

But no words came out.

Johnson simply burst into tears. But he got his message across.

"He was so emotional, he couldn't talk," junior Mario Fleming said. "It got us emotional, too."

Added senior Brandon Ellington. "I started crying, too."

Top 10 schedule, results

The motivated Lions turned in a near-flawless performance to thrash the tradition-rich Bluejays 88-32 at Missouri State University's JQH Arena.

Cardinal Ritter claimed its eighth state crown and first since 2014. The eight championships ties it with New Haven for fourth on the all-time list of boys basketball titles in Missouri.

The Lions' 56-point margin of victory is the largest in title game history covering all classes, eclipsing Vashon's 82-27 win over De Smet in the Class 5 championship in 2002.

"Wow — unbelievable," were the first words out of Johnson's mouth at the post-game press conference.

Johnson, in his second season, was all set to tell his players how proud he was of them as they prepared for the showdown. That win or lose, he was going to remember this group for the rest of his life.

But he got too choked up.

It didn't matter. The players took his non-words to heart.

"How could you not go out and play your best after that?" sophomore guard Luther Burden Jr. said. "I mean, it got us so fired up."

Cardinal Ritter vs. Charleston

Cardinal Ritter coach Ryan Johnson holds up the State Championship trophy with his team after the Class 3 boys championship basketball game against Charleston on Saturday, March 14, 2020, at JQH Arena in Springfield, Mo. Randy Kemp | Special to

The Lions looked like an unstoppable machine from start to finish. They bolted out to a 12-1 lead after just 2 minutes and 59 seconds and never looked back.

Cardinal Ritter used an 18-2 run over the final 5:28 of the second quarter to take a 45-16 lead into intermission.

Johnson's crew pumped its lead to 47 points in the third quarter and led by as many as 61 in the running-clock fourth quarter.

"We just wanted to put 32 minutes together and we did — in the last game of the year," Johnson said. "The effort and work that our kids put in, I knew that (a blowout) was in them. I didn't know when, or if, or how."

Burden, an NCAA Division I football prospect, led a balanced attack with 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting. He managed just 14 minutes of playing time due to foul trouble. Fleming chipped in with 16 points. He logged just 11 minutes due to foul problems, as well.

Senior Glenn Valentine scored 11 points. Garry Clark had five points and a team-high eight rebounds. Ellington had six points and six boards.

The Lions, who closed the season on a 12-game winning streak, got into early foul trouble. But their bench came through big time. Caleb Wilkerson scored 11 points and triggered the second-quarter blitz.

Johnson used all 14 players on his roster and 10 scored points. He received 32 points and 18 rebounds from his bench.

"We said all year, we've got more than just six or seven guys that can play," Fleming said. "You saw that today."

Cardinal Ritter vs. Charleston

Cardinal Ritter's Caleb Wilkerson makes a running jumper for two defended by Charleston's Blessin Kimble during the Class 3 boys championship basketball game on Saturday, March 14, 2020, at JQH Arena in Springfield, Mo. Randy Kemp | Special to

The contest was projected to be a tight matchup between tradition-rich programs. Charleston, known as the beast of the Bootheel, has won 11 state titles, second on the all-time list. It came into the contest on a 17-1 streak.

But the title game was never close.

Legendary Charleston coach Danny Farmer, who is stepping down with career record of 753-221, said his group simply was overwhelmed.

Bluejays senior forward Blessin Kimble believed the slow start was the key to the outcome.

"They came out hard," he said, "And we never caught up."

Cardinal Ritter, which got out to a 15-0 start in a semifinal win over Blair Oaks on Friday, bolted out to another early cushion. Fleming scored on a driving layup and Burden answered with a short jumper off a pass from Valentine for a 4-0 lead after just 44 seconds. Burden followed with a pair of steals that led to easy baskets. Fleming closed the outburst with a 15-footer.

Wilkerson scored seven points in the late first-half salvo. Joshua Robinson and Nyjahl Vaughn also added key 2-pointers.

"I'm not going to say I thought we'd win by as many as we did," Burden said. "But, we were pretty confident."

Cardinal Ritter shot 59 percent from the field and forced Charleston (28-5) to miss 43 of 53 shots.

"Amazing effort," Johnson said. "I don't think it can get any better than this."

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