BY MATTHEW SPARKS
FOR THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
IRONTON Ironton delivered its best parting shot, but Russell’s 1-2 punch delivered the knockout in the final minutes on Thursday night.
The Lady Devils fought off a late Lady Fighting Tigers rally in the fourth quarter to prevail, 65-54, at Ironton High School.
Maggie Jachimczuk started the game strong, going 8-10 from the field in the first half, and Madison Darnell finished off Ironton from the freethrow line late to seal the victory.
Russell coach Mandy Layne said while Darnell and Jachimczuk are vital to the team, the rest of the starting five have become heavy hitters as well.
“As I keep saying, they are the best 1-2 combo in the region,” Layne said. “But we also have three really good players around them. All three do their jobs and know their roles. They really help us out.”
Jachimczuk finished with a gamehigh 25 points and 10 rebounds. Darnell added 19, eight coming from the charity stripe in the second half. Ty Mitchell also claimed a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
Darnell played a pivotal role on the defensive end, taking the responsibility of guarding Ironton’s Lexie Arden, a promising freshman forward. The junior’s size matched up well with the 5-foot-10 frontcourt player.
“Madison did a great job on her,” Layne said.
“I get on her a little about her defense, but I thought her defense was great tonight.”
Russell’s defensive effort led to the Lady Tigers shooting just 28.6 percent in the first half.
It led to easy buckets on the offensive end for the Lady Devils in transition.
“(Russell) capitalized on their easy opportunities,” Ironton coach Doug Graham said. “I thought we left a couple of baskets out there on the floor, especially in the first half. They hit their easy ones and we didn’t.”
Added Layne: “(Ironton) looked tired. We worked on it the last couple days in practice, getting more transition baskets. I thought we did a good job of that.”
Darnell splashed in a 3 to begin the fourth quarter, increasing the Russell lead to 52-32.
Ironton (6-2) turned up its defensive pressure to claw its way back into the game. Arden started a 18-4 run with consecutive baskets. After Lexi Wise’s driving layup, the margin was cut to 56-50 with two minutes remaining.
Arden finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Wise and Sydney Webb joined her in double figures with 13 and 12, respectively.
“If we play the way we did in the fourth quarter, I like our chances,” Graham said. “We were aggressive on offensive.
We moved the ball. … I told the girls this is Step 8 in a 22-step process to be playing our best basketball in February. We have some things now we know that we have to work on.”
Russell (9-4) stemmed the tide with Darnell at the line and a pivotal 3point play from Jachimczuk off a dish from Darnell.
“I knew they were going to make a run,” Layne said. “Honestly, when we got them down 20, I felt like they looked a little defeated. Give Ironton credit, they fought back and made a great run. But our kids were resilient at the end and Madison stepped up to hit a couple of big free throws and we got out of here with a win.”
The Lady Devils delivered a 9-2 spurt to end the first half with a 3222 advantage. The lead grew to 45-26 with nine straight midway through the third quarter.
“We’ve talked about it,” Layne said of her defensive effort. “We are going to get it to four quarters. I think the Lexington tournament really helped us (last week). We played four really good teams down there. We are slowly getting to where we are going to play four quarters. When we got up 20, we started to relax. We need to work on maintaining that intensity level.”
Russell went 2-2 against four teams with a combined record of 32-9 at the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic.
“Ironton is rated No. 6 in their division for a reason,” Layne said.
“This is a big win for us,” she added. “Hopefully, it will be a sign of good things to come.”