BY AARON SNYDER
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELLWest Carter thrives on driving opposing teams crazy, but Russell didn’t succumb to chaos.
The Lady Devils leaned on experience, speed and pinpoint passing to conquer the Lady Comets’ press as they claimed an 84-53 victory on Monday at Marvin Meredith Gymnasium.
Ball security was no problem as Russell tallied seven turnovers. “We had a discussion about how we were not going to let the press bother us,” said Lady Devils coach Mandy Layne. “Not that their press isn’t very good, but with our speed and with Madison (Darnell) and her ballhandling and the way we move the ball, we didn’t feel like they should turn us over. I thought we did a great job.”
Particularly pleasing to Layne’s eye was freshman Kaeli Ross. She was 5 of 6 from the floor and collected 11 points, but Ross responded to a different challenge.
“We get onto her some about her defense,” Layne said with a laugh, “so, tonight, I was so happy to see her get up into some passing lanes and I thought it was huge, too, that she hit a 3 in a key moment.”
Ross recorded a steal and bucket to stir up a full student section and give Russell a 2-0 lead. Not only did they never trail, but the Lady Devils blazed out of the gate with 12 straight points, six of which were initiated by thefts. Kallie Burchett put West Carter on the board 3:50 into the contest.
Ross accounted for eight first-quarter points as Russell ended the stanza standing tall with a 27-6 advantage.
“Honestly, we were just playing harder than them,” said Lady Devils senior Lakie Sanders. “(The game plan was to) play harder than them on defense and use our teamwork with good passes.”
Sanders scored 20 points. She was 7 of 11 to contribute to the team’s 61.1-percent shooting effort. She went 6 of 6 from the charity stripe.
Sanders and Layne both acknowledged the importance of a couple of timely third-quarter long balls off the hands of Ross and McKenah Morris.
West Carter coach Aaron Rayburn said he outlined a secondhalf mission: Cut Russell’s 19-point lead in half. The Lady Comets nearly accomplished it just four minutes into the third.
Assertive eighthgrader Allie Stone nailed a 3, dropped in a runner and found the net again to slice it to 50-39. She finished with 20 points and seven rebounds for the 16th Region All “A” champions.
Following a Layne-signaled timeout, Ross and Morris canned triples to extend the lead to 17.
“It’s funny how momentum changes out of those timeouts,” Rayburn said. “I was proud to see that fight, see that grit. But after the second time going down by 20, that’s hard to come back from. Mentally, you fought so hard to get to that point, and to see it all go away in a blink of an eye, it’s tough to handle.”
Said Sanders of the 3s: “They were huge. That’s what I think teams don’t expect is when we have other players off the bench that can come out and score.”
Sanders and Darnell combined for 14 of Russell’s final 28 points. Darnell had 18 overall.
Ty Mitchell tossed in 10 points and had six boards. Aubrey Hill had nine points and four rebounds for Russell, which amassed 27 assists.
“We work on it every day. Our goal in practice every possession is to get a wide-open shot,” Layne said. “We have a goal of 20 assists every game. We are spreading it around and being very selfless. When we’re getting open shots and hitting them like tonight, we’re hard to beat.”