By VINCE PELUSO
Heading to Kinsman to face Badger has been Pymatuning Valley’s worst nightmare over the past three seasons.
Despite successful 13- and 18-win seasons over the past two years, the Lakers couldn’t figure out how to defeat the Braves in Kinsman.
So, it seemed unlikely that PV senior Quintin Ratliff would get the necessary 30 points he needed to crack the 1,000-point mark for his career and become the 40th Grand Player in Ashtabula County boys basketball history.
Then again, those who thought that probably haven’t seen Ratliff play.
The Laker do-everything guard dropped 32 on the Braves, including scoring 6 straight baskets and 5 foul shots as he scored 22 second-half points to lead his team to a 67-51 win at Badger Friday.
“It felt good to finally get there (to 1,000 points). My team had my back the whole way,” Ratliff said. “I appreciate them. They helped me out a lot and it feels good to get it off my shoulders.”
Ratliff admitted winning at Badger and getting his 1,000th point on a court that his team has struggled on in recent years felt good.
“The four years I’ve been here, we’ve lost there three times, it’s a tough enviornment,” he said. “(Scoring 32 points in the win) is a night I won’t ever forget. I had 10 points at the half, so I never thought I’d get my 1,000th point. But my team came through and continued to help me.
“My guards and younger players were helping me get through and it’s not only memorable for me, but I think it’s memorable for my team. They can look back on it and say they helped me and I think that’s pretty special.”
PV coach Ryan Shontz said he was happy to be apart of the special night.
“It was fantastic,” he said. “The fact that he did in what was a close game. He struggled early then he rattled off 6 straight baskets and just went unconscious. It was a 1point game til he took over.”
Champion coach Ryan Fitch, who was Ratlif’s head coach for his first three years at PV, summed up Ratliff’s ability to go on such spurts as plays that can’t be drawn up by a coach.
“I said it for the 3 years I was up there with him, he just makes plays that are absolutely uncoachable,” he said. “We could be in situations where we need a basket and instead of calling a play or set I’d just say ‘give and get.’ Give it to Quintin and get the hell out of the way!”
Fitch, who had the unique opportunity of both coaching Ratliff and against him when PV played Champion this year said there’s really no defense to stop the senior.
“The game plan was focused on stopping him and he still had 28,” he said. “I’ve said it before, he is a Division I athlete playing Division III basketball. When he wants to score he’s going to score. When he’s using his pullup, it’s nearly impossible to stop.
“We were focused on him but he’s just so quick with his first step and the way he handles it, it’s impossible.”
Shontz, in his first head coaching job, said having a player like Ratliff certainly makes his job easier.
“It makes my life a whole lot easier,” he said. “It’s not easy to score 1,000 points, but he’s very gifted athletically and works as hard as anyone I’ve ever been around. He has a unique work ethic both in athletics and in school.”
Fitch said that at times, some people thought Ratliff is so gifted athletically that he might not be playing hard, but that was never the case as he saw him grow during their time together.
“He matured a lot between his sophomore and junior year,” he said. “He was a little inconsistent, but I could always rely on him to go out there and score. Some guys disappear, at times, but when I look back at the scorebook, he never really disappeared on me.
“He went out there every night and performed. He took a lot of heat from people about how he played... they’d say he didn’t play hard, but he practiced and played hard for me every day and I’m very proud of him and happy for him.”
Ratliff, who now stands at 1,002 points for his career, said playing for Shontz and Fitch were a big help in getting him to this milestone.
“Playing for Coach Fitch was a little bit of a slower pace, but playing for him was a good experience because it taught me a different type of basketball,” he said. “Playing for Coach Shontz allowed me to be a better player, too, because it’s more of a transition game, we’re trying to play faster.
“I wouldn’t be the player I am today without having played for both of them.”
This season has been a transition for Ratliff. Having played with another 1,000-point scorer, Tim Cross, for his first three seasons, Ratliff had someone to draw attention of the defense away from him.
That’s not the case this season and Shontz said it hasn’t always been easy.
“There have been some rough patches,” he said. “He’s as good as anybody when he plays well, but he can’t do that every night and some nights, other guys step up. It’s been a real struggle because everyone’s scouting report is put ‘5 guys on Quintin.’ But, he’s still averaging over 20 points a game with an entire focus of every team on him.
Ratliff said it’s been a change, but he’s adjusted and his teammates have stepped up to help.
“It’s definitely been a big change not having Timmy there,” he said. “This year, I have to go out there and get my team motivated and be a captain more than last year. I have to try to get those guys pumped but they’ve caught on and motivated themselves to get through the hard stuff and succeed.”
Ratliff is the fourth PV player since 2008 to crack the 1,000-point mark joining Steve Savel (1,440), Corey Shontz (1,292) and Cross (1,050).
He said it’s quite an honor to be on that list, which includes 5 other former PV greats giving the Lakers 9 Grand Players, by far the most in county history.
“It’s definitely crazy, I remember being young and looking up to guys like Steve and Corey,” he said. “I couldn’t be more happy to be on a list with them and now it’s time to keep working.”
Interestingly, Shontz has been involved with all 4 of those scoring achievements.
“(Scoring 1,000 points) doesn’t happen very often but I’ve been around a lot of these as a JV coach and my brother (Corey), so it feels more regular than it should,” he said. “I knew very early he was special. He was one of my first students when I got hired here and I could see how hard he works academically. He puts in the work and I knew he was gonna be great.”
Now, Ratliff said he’s going to focus on helping his team win the rest of the season.
“It’s definitely something I don’t have to worry about anymore,” he said. “It’s relieving to get it. Now I can go out and play my game. The little things throw me off sometimes, now I don’t have to stress. I can focus on winning and trying to get a NAC title and making the team better.”