BY MATTHEW SPARKS
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELL Not having your star post player to start the season could put a coach at his wit’s end.
Russell coach Bryan Groves has found a suitable replacement until Ryan Stump returns from injury as Chaz Whitt has become a star in the making down in the post.
The senior tallied another double-digit effort and led a key spurt for the Red Devils to start the third quarter. Russell recorded its fifth win in its last six games with a 65-53 defeat of Raceland on Thursday night at Marvin Meredith Gym.
Whitt believes he is adapting well to his increased workload in the paint.
“As the season has gone on, I’m feeling really comfortable,” Whitt said. “It’s playing more and getting used to my teammates. We are getting better together.”
Whitt scored 10 points, all after halftime. He dropped in six down low during a 11-2 run to begin the second half that turned a tight contest at the break into a double-digit advantage for the Red Devils.
The difference has been Whitt asking for the ball during games and his teammates are starting to listen.
“Since Christmas break, he has really grown up,” Groves said. “I am so proud of him. He battled his butt off tonight. Early in the game, he didn’t have a point but had multiple rebounds. He kept fighting. He told me that he is hollering for (the ball), he was calling for it. … I told him, ‘Just keep calling louder.’ We did that in the third quarter and we got him some touches.”
Whitt is not the only component of the Russell Revival. Bobby Hale and Charlie Jachimczuk has turned up the dial on defense. Hale also had a game-high 22 points.
Jachimczuk added 14.
Brandon Rose swiped 11 rebounds.
“The keys to winning, you play harder than they do,” Groves said.
“…We played hard from the tip. We finally jumped on somebody instead of being passive.
That was our mindset.
We had to pressure them early. We made some shots early which helped things.”
Jachimczuk tallied seven of Russell’s first nine points. Austin Clark swished a baseline jumper and Rose connected from long distance to start the Red Devils with a 12-2 lead.
“He is playing way above what his age is,” Groves said of Jachimczuk. “It’s great to see a freshman do that. He did that (this week) at Lewis County along with Tristan Miller. They scored our first 13 points. If we do that, we will be pretty good. Their teammates have their back.”
The Rams fought back in the second quarter with nine straight points to take its final lead of the game at 16-14. Octavious Hall accounted for eight points in the frame to keep his team close at the break, trailing 27-23.
“Octavious has played well all season,” Raceland coach Bob Trimble said.
“He is probably the only guy we had ready to go tonight. Other than that, I don’t think we had anybody else ready to go. It was frustrating.
You get it to six points twice and give up offensive rebounds with an and-1 both times. Those are effort plays. All the loose balls, the 50-50 balls, they probably got 95 percent of them. That and Whitt goes wild like that inside, it’s going to be a long night.”
With the Rams hanging around, Whitt went to work in the third, He hit five of his six field goal attempts in the second half. Hale’s steal and layup gave Russell (7-10) its biggest lead at 40-25 midway through the stanza.
Travis Weaver started to heat up, hitting four from way beyond the arc. His final shot from downtown sliced the Rams’ deficit to 57-51 with two minutes remaining. The Red Devils finished off Raceland after hitting 10 of 10 from the charity stripe down the stretch.
Russell hit 17 of 20 for the game.
“We are playing a lot better now,” Whitt said.
“We are playing more as a team.”
Russell huddled together at halfcourt to celebrate the victory.
Groves said it’s become a new team tradition. It’s all part of the fun they are having.
“It something that they started doing,” Groves said. “When they win, they sing the fight song. They are having fun. The locker room is fun. … It makes my job easier. When they are having fun, they are playing hard and playing excited.”
Rylie Potter had 13 points for Raceland (7-5).
Weaver netted 12 and Hall contributed 11.
Russell improves to 3-1 in 63rd District seeding games. The Rams drop to 1-2.