BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
Russell's Lakie Sanders goes up strong to the basket against Lewis County on Thursday during the 63rd District finals.
MARTY CONLEY | FOR THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RACELAND Lewis County’s aim in the 63rd District Tournament finals was to hold Russell to the mid-40s in points and take its chances, said coach Jay Fite.
The Lady Devils were well short of that mark — but cut down the nets anyway.
Russell knocked off the Lady Lions, 33-24, on Thursday night at Raceland.
That’s the fewest points scored by the winner of a 16th Region district tournament final since the rebirth of KHSAA-sponsored girls basketball in 1975. The Lady Devils made up for it with their defense, holding Lewis County to one second-half field goal and six points after intermission.
“We knew that they were gonna slow us down,” Russell coach Mandy Layne said, “and we were kind of hoping, honestly, that we would get a little bit of a cushion. We just weren’t able to put the ball in the basket — it happens sometimes — but our defense continued to grind it out, and I was really, really proud of them.”
Maggie Jachimczuk was the lone scorer in double figures for either team. She collected 13 points and 10 rebounds, and posted the last basket of the third quarter and initial bucket of the fourth to turn a one-point Lady Devil lead into five.
Jachimczuk credited Russell’s execution down the stretch to its situational practice.
“We work hard every day, and we work on end-of-the-game situations,” Jachimczuk said. “And Coach will give us situations where we’re up two, if we’re down two, and I think that really helped us in that game because we knew how to do it in the end.”
Russell’s Lakie Sanders’ putback with 1:15 to go in the first quarter was the last of five lead changes in that frame, and it put the Lady Devils ahead to stay. But they never got the lead to more than six points until the final minute.
Lewis County made only one field goal in the final 16:35 of the game — Abby Pick’s driving layup with 1:28 to go in the third quarter — and still hung within six deep into the game.
Twice the Lady Lions had opportunities to cut closer in the final 1:20 after Russell missed the front end of 1-and-1s. Lewis County couldn’t take advantage, though: the Lady Lions missed a contested baseline runner after the first one, and Jachimczuk cleaned the offensive glass after the second one.
Madison Darnell then drained two charity tosses with 48.2 seconds left.
“We wanted to get it at our pace, and that wasn’t necessarily in the 30s,” Fite said. “I’ll be honest with you, I thought if we could get it to mid-40s, it would be OK.
“But ... free-throw situations, we’ve been shooting around 70 percent as a team; we missed some free throws early, and we missed a few layups. But I’m extremely proud of them. My goodness, they came in, fought, they stuck to the game plan the whole time. When (Russell) made a couple buckets, they didn’t panic. We played like a pretty mature team today.”
Lewis County shot 20.6 percent from the field and 50 percent from the charity stripe. Russell finished 28.9 percent on floor shots and 66.7 percent at the line.
Layne conceded that, before last year’s run to a region tournament title, the Lady Devils would have had a difficult time winning a game like Thursday’s.
But Russell made necessary plays even without having much luck shooting the ball.
“I felt like the whole time, especially as that second half kept progressing, that we felt and knew that we were gonna win this game,” Layne said. “And the way we handled the last three minutes taking care of the ball I think really showed our experience.”
Gracie Yates led Lewis County (19-11) with nine points.
Russell (21-11) won its 14th consecutive game against district opponents. The previous baker’s dozen had come by an average of 22.8 points a pop, though, so Fite considered Thursday’s decision progress, even if it didn’t result in a victory.
“I just told (my players) when we left, we’ve been talking about not wondering if you left it all out there; you need to know that you left it all out there,” Fite said. “And they need to leave this gym knowing that, because they did. And I’m proud of them for that.”
Both teams advance to next week’s 16th Region Tournament. The draw is Saturday.
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All-Tournament Team: Russell — Madison Darnell, Ty Mitchell, Maggie Jachimczuk, Rachel Michael; Lewis County — Gracie Yates, Abby Pick, Erica Frye; Raceland — Lauren Runyon; Greenup County — Haley Valandingham