CUMBERLAND — D.J. Ritchie, who did just about everything the last three seasons for Southern Garrett and capped his high school career with likely his finest performance, was voted the Cumberland Times-News Boys Basketball Player of the Year by area head coaches.
Ritchie, a 6-4 senior forward, was the winner of a four-way battle for player-of-the-year honors that included Bishop Walsh’s Pat Jones, Allegany’s Tylor Jessie and Fort Hill’s Garrett D’Atri.
Ritchie ended up winning by a half vote over Jones. Jessie and D’Atri were just one vote behind. One vote was split because a coach voted for co-players of the year.
Ritchie is the first Player of the Year from Southern since Dennis Tressler in 2003, and the fifth since the award debuted in 1977. The others were Brett Rice (1991, 1992), Scott Stem (1985) and Steve Liller (1978).
Ritchie, a three-year starter, finished second in the area in scoring with 474 points and a 19.8 average. He also ranked fourth in rebounding, grabbing 237 in 24 games for a 9.9 average, and made 24 three-point goals.
He finished his career No. 13 on Southern’s all-time scoring list with 861 points. The 474 points he scored this year is fifth on the school’s all-time list for points during a senior season.
Ritchie was 13th in the area in steals, averaging 1.8 per game, and had one of the highest free-throw shooting percentages in area history, making 123 of 143 chances for an area’s best 86 percent.
“D.J. carried us through minutes on both the defensive and offensive ends. He knew at points of the game that he needed to take over on both ends of the court,’’ said Southern coach Jon Hegeman. “His maturity and leadership really grew throughout the season. The way he improved from his sophomore to senior seasons were huge. He had an all-around game that flourished his senior year. His size, athletic ability and complete game will be hard to replace.”
Ritchie matched or surpassed almost everyone else as far as scoring and statistics go. His unselfish play and willingness to fill a void the team needed, specifically inside strength, was vital to the team’s success and its first area championship in 10 years.
“D.J. really solidified our inside game this season. When he started to work more around the block area, our team really improved,’’ said Hegeman. “The numbers that D.J. and Tylor Jessie from Allegany had during the season with consistently putting up double-doubles was impressive.
“D.J. was a perimeter player with a soft shooting touch his first two years on the varsity team,” Hegeman continued. “But the work he put in from December to March by improving his footwork in the post was important to our team so we could have a balanced attack.”
If a player is remembered most by his final game, then Ritchie will be remembered for a long time, and not just by Southern fans.
He scored 26 points, was 14-for-14 from the foul line and hauled in 20 rebounds in the Class 1A West Region championship game against Smithsburg at Frostburg State University. On the ropes several times in the second half, Ritchie brought the Rams back each time, and hit two pressure-packed foul shots in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime.
Smithsburg, however, prevailed in the end, 60-54, leaving Southern a game from the state tournament for the second year in a row.
“D.J.’s done everything for us,” Hegeman said after that game. “He’s a perimeter shooter, an inside scorer, a rebounder ... he’s improved so much.”
Ritchie played his best down the stretch in leading the Rams to the area championship and region championship game. In the last seven regular-season games, he averaged 22.1 points, had a 30-point game against Allegany and a 31-point game against Fort Hill. In three region playoff games, he averaged 22.6 points and was 27-for-27 from the foul line.
Southern won nine of its last 10 games and finished 19-6 overall. In Ritchie’s three seasons as a starter, the Rams were 48-24 overall, 33-13 in the AMAC, played in three sectional finals and two region championship games.
Ritchie will receive the Player of the Year Award at the Dapper Dan Awards Banquet in January.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org