STORY BY JAKE DONOVAN | PHOTOS BY WHITNEY JARRELD
The game plan for Franklin on Friday night was simple: make sure that Sydney Ryan scores—and that Kelsey Leedle does not.
Senior forward Darcy Doran made sure of the latter, playing one of the best games of her stellar high school career on both ends of the court. Ryan handled the rest, with the red-hot freshman dropping 31 points in a Lady Rebels 57-24 win over the hosting Independence Lady Eagles in District 11-AAA play.
Doran chipped in 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals, while holding Leedle to a season low five points.
“I thought we did a great job defensively, Darcy Doran in particular,” Lady Rebels head coach John Wild told Home Page. “Darcy has a high motor and I thought she did a really, really good job on (Leedle) all night, taking away some of the looks they normally have for her. I’m just honored to get to coach her for another two months.”
The inspiring play from the rail thin senior was infectious, as the Lady Rebels saw several players step up their game on a night when their floor general was taken out of the mix.
Senior point guard Jillian King—who will play for Valdosta State next year—was limited to 1 point, three assists and three rebounds before coming out of the game in the third game after suffering a head injury. Filling the void was Doran as well as freshman Jean Costello (2 points, four assists), whose efforts went well beyond the box score.
“It was scary for all of us when Jillian went down,” admitted Wild, though his concern limited to the senior’s health and not whether or not his team would step up in her absence. “I thought Darcy did a good job handling the ball. Jean Costello did a terrific job pushing the ball and getting it to Sydney Ryan.”
The Lady Eagles actually managed to force Ryan out of her rhythm for portions of the game, as she was held to a relatively quiet 12 points through three quarters. Much of that was due to the scrappy play of senior point guard Grace Sanchez, who led Independence with six points, six assists and five steals.
“It helps when Grace takes over, it takes the pressure off of me,” admitted Leedle, a Queens University of Charlotte commit. “When I get open, they do a really good job of giving me a good look so that I can knock it down. It just didn’t happen for me tonight.”
It eventually happened for Ryan, who went off for 19 points in a runaway 4th quarter to give the Lady Rebels (6-4/3-2 in District 11-AAA play) its second straight blowout victory.
“We did really well on defense but just got really tired towards the end,” noted Sanchez of the scrappy but young Lady Eagles (3-9/1-4). “We’re working on improving our offense. It’s coming and we just have to be patient.”
The same goes for the Lady Rebels, who are still gelling as a team that lost eight seniors to graduation one year ago including one of the very best to ever come out of Franklin in Holly Harris, who was in attendance for Friday’s game.
The UAH freshman liked what she saw from her alma mater.
“It was awesome to be able to get back and watch them,” said Harris. “It was the first time I had a chance to see them play this season and they’re doing great. This is the future of Franklin High School.”
Part of the rebuilding process has come from Kate O’Neil. The sophomore post player worked her way inside on nearly every possession, posting 12 points and 13 rebounds on the night.
“Kate is growing up tremendously,” Wild said. “She’s made a lot of strides and is still figuring things out. She’s still growing as a sophomore, but she has great hands under the boards and is extremely coachable.”
There’s perhaps no Rebels student-athlete more coachable than Doran, whose selfless play translated well on both ends of the gym. The Christian Brothers University commit is used to drawing the toughest assignment every game night and is always up for the challenge.
The end result on Friday only made the reward that much sweeter.
“It was a good feeling to be able to contain Kelsey,” admitted Doran. “I made a point to go after her and I think it got to her a bit. Whenever you can force bad shots and turnovers on defense, it creates a lot of opportunities on offense.”
Nobody knows that better than the team’s leading scorer, who just happens to be the youngest member of the squad.
“it is awesome to have a freshman that strong, you can pass to her and she can nail it from anywhere,” notes Doran.
Learning from those before her has only elevated Ryan’s game on the high school level.
“Darcy always plays the other team’s best player and always plays them extremely tough,” Ryan stated of her senior teammate. She was amazing tonight, she’s amazing to play alongside and if I go on to be half the player she is, I’ll consider myself very fortunate.”
Both teams will sharpen their skills in non-league play during the holiday break. The Lady Eagles head to Hickman County to participate in the Above the Rim Tournament, while the Lady Rebels will play host to the 16-team (eight boys, eight girls) Middle Tennessee Invitational Tournament.