River Ridge coach Chuck Butler's smile after his team's 67-64 victory over rival Mitchell on Tuesday night could not be wiped off his face.
The Royal Knights' first-year coach knew his team, in the midst of a six-game losing streak, needed a win against Class 6A-District 10 leader Mitchell. With standout center John Childs frustrated in the first quarter, it seemed like the streak might continue.
River Ridge, though, kept its composure and handed the Mustangs their first district loss.
"Very, very big win for us," Butler said. "We've been in a little bit of a spell lately. We played a tough Christmas tournament in Palatka. Our players just came together and battled as a team. Mitchell is a great team, so this is a great win. I'm just so happy for the kids."
The teams combined for only 20 points in the opening period, but the pace picked up in the second quarter and Mitchell (13-5, 5-1) led 30-25 at halftime.
River Ridge junior guard Albert Cione (18 points) went on a 3-point barrage in the third quarter, draining three baskets from downtown in a span of a minute and a half. The Royal Knights (8-9, 5-5) continued to play inspired basketball heading into the final quarter, receiving two energizing dunks from Childs (12 points), including an emphatic slam to begin the period.
Free throws ended up being the difference in the game, with Mitchell making 16 of 29 attempts and River Ridge hitting 15 of 22.
Kyle McCoy added 16 points for the Knights. Lawrence Watt paced Mitchell with 15 points.