BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
GRAYSON When Russell sat 38-1 entering the final week of September, Marty Torgrimson feared a short postseason stay.
Now it’s lasted all the way to the region final. The Red Devils’ fifth straight win — a 5-2 toppling of West Carter on Tuesday night at East Carter — pushed Russell into Thursday’s 16th Region Tournament title game.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect us to get out of the districts, with the way we had been playing,” Torgrimson said. “And to be here, it’s comforting and encouraging. ... It’s a great confidence booster to be able to start playing and realizing that the things that we’ve been working on are starting to gel and come together.”
The Red Devils’ offensive dynamic duo of Sam Ewing and Nolan Sabotchick combined for all five Russell goals on Thursday. Perhaps the most important was Sabotchick’s 33rdminute tally. Less than a minute earlier, the Comets had gotten on the board when Dawson Craig scored off Isaiah Parsons’ corner kick. That sliced the Red Devils’ lead to 2-1.
Sabotchick, though, quickly stretched the Russell advantage back to two goals.
“I think it was huge,” Sabotchick said. “We really needed that goal, because the momentum can turn any time when it’s only one goal (margin).”
West Carter coach Nate Shelton agreed.
“Any time that you switch possessions in the middle of the field, there’s gonna be a breakway, and you’ve gotta hammer down,” he said. “Our defense collapsed on us. That’s something we’re gonna work on in the offseason.”
Ewing, who had scored in the sixth minute and found Sabotchick for a goal in the 30th with a pretty lay-off pass with his back to the goal backwards into the box with the bottom of his foot, found the net again early in the second half. Sabotchick closed the Russell scoring in the 58th minute.
Ewing scored his 24th and 25th goals of the year, while Sabotchick tallied for the 13th, 14th and 15th times. They’ve combined for 40 of the Red Devils’ 49 goals — 81.6 percent.
“We’ve been working together for a really long time, and the chemistry has just built over the years,” Sabotchick said of Ewing. “Since sixth grade, we’ve been playing together, and it’s really helped us bond, and we know what each other’s gonna do before it even happens.”
After a sluggish midseason stretch, the Red Devils got hot at the right time, culminating in their second region title trip in three seasons.
“We had high standards going into the season, and then we got off to a really rough start,” Sabotchick said, “but we picked it up and kept our heads, and it’s just all improved from there.”
Russell (8-8-1) was in the region tournament semifinals for the third straight year. West Carter (11-11) competed in its first region semifinal in the eight-year history of the program.
“It hurts to end it here, but there’s promise,” Shelton said. “We got a young team. ... We’re looking to build upon this.”
Parsons provided the punctuation with his 66th-minute goal that leaked through the Russell keeper’s hands. He, along with five other Comets seniors, will graduate as the most accomplished class in program history — they stunned East Carter in the district semifinals as sophomores, won last year’s region All “A” Classic, and advanced further this season than West Carter ever had.
“They made big strides,” Shelton said. “It’s sad to see them go, but good that we have something behind them.”
Russell improved to 7-0 alltime against West Carter.
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