Russell coach Merle Kidwell knew Monday’s game against Greenup County was going to be close, even though no one else believed him. Turned out he was right.
After the score was tied at 54 late in the fourth quarter, Russell went on a 9-0 run on its way to a 69-59 defeat of Greenup County in the first round of the 63rd District Tournament on Monday at Raceland-Worthington High School.
For Kidwell, it seemed every time his team started to pull away, Greenup County always was able to respond.
“I told (Greenup County coach Harold) Tackett that he should be the top coach in the region,” Kidwell said. “There is not a team that has improved as much as they have. We knew coming in it was going to be a battle.
“But I thought we held our composure, made a couple baskets ... and we made our free throws.”
Free throws were key throughout the entire game for the Red Devils. They went 30 for 37 from the charity stripe, including a perfect 16 for 16 in the fourth quarter.
Kyle Skaggs scored a game-high 28 points, with 16 coming from the free-throw line off 19 attempts. Skaggs outshot Greenup County from the line as the Musketeers went 10 of 15.
“We gave them everything we had tonight and it was really hard to overcome that free throw difference,” Tackett said. “Still, it’s a good ball game even with that humongous difference in free throws.”
Russell was up by 10 at halftime, but was outscored 16-6 by Greenup County in the third quarter. Brandon Johnson was the key in the third quarter and finished with a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The big blow for Greenup County was losing its only senior starter, Justin Bond, who fouled out with five minutes left in the game. He was the Musketeers’ top scorer with 17 points.
“It was humongous,” Tackett said. “You take his leadership off the floor and we were searching out there for a little bit. But the good thing is the other kids had to step up and it’s all about learning.”
Jair Jackson stepped up for Greenup County (7-19), scoring six points in the fourth quarter to tie the game late. The sophomore finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.
In the end, though, it was Russell’s senior-laden team serving up the difference in the end. Especially Skaggs, who after struggling in the first half to find his shot — going 2 for 10 from the field — became more of a passer in the second half.
He had six assists in the second half to go along with 13 points (3 of 6 from the floor).
“We have No. 15 out there and he doesn’t get shaken,” Kidwell said of Skaggs. “He keeps everyone on an even keel.”
While Skaggs put up his usual scoring, it was Lance Evans in the post who had to fight for his points.
Evans, who stands at 6-foot-5, had to go up against Greenup’s 6-8 Johnson all night, and held his ground while scoring 17 points. He went 7 for 7 from the free-throw line.
For a senior playing in his first playoff game, Evans handled himself well, according to his coach.
“He’s been a huge addition for us,” Kidwell said. “Their length is a problem when we play them — they’re our toughest matchup in the district just because of their size.”
Russell moves on to next week’s 16th Region Tournament. The Red Devils will play in the 63rd District title game on Friday.
Russell (24-7) will play the winner of tonight’s Lewis County-Raceland game. Kidwell is just happy to have survived the first game.
“They always say on the road to Rupp the first game is the hardest,” Kidwell said. “We were right there with our season flashing right in front of us.”
Greenup Co. 50
It may have been a 14-point win, but Russell coach Mandy Layne is thankful her team is moving on in the 63rd District Tournament.
Greenup County was down only 54-50 with less than three minutes left in the game before Russell went on 10-0 run to end it on Monday at Raceland.
“I was waiting for our defense to step up,” Layne said. “Our defense stepped up and made two huge plays. We stopped attacking, when we should have attacked the whole time.”
The fourth quarter wasn’t the only time Russell seemed to stop attacking.
Russell built up a 21-9 lead after the first quarter, only to watch Greenup County go on 15-0 run in the second quarter and outscore them 20-9 in the period.
Greenup County senior Destiny Jones scored 14 of Greenup’s 20 points in the second and finished with 17 points in the game.
“It took so much out of us in the second quarter to battle back,” said Greenup County coach Mark Cantrell. “In the second quarter, I thought Destiny just came alive. It was huge for us.”
Katie Campbell finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds for Greenup County (12-18).
Cantrell said while his guard play carried them, the Lady Musketeers really wanted to soften up Russell’s post presence. The Lady Devils didn’t let that happen.
Russell’s Arden Gross finished the game with 22 points and nine rebounds for the Lady Devils. She took over in the fourth quarter, driving the ball and working for her shot in the post.
“I was really proud of the way she posted up, especially in the second half,” Layne said.
Hope Parsley had 19 points and nine rebounds for Russell (13-16), while Shelby Huddleston added 11 points.
Russell will play the winner of tonight’s Lewis County-Raceland game in the 63rd District championship game on Thursday.
RUSSELL 21 9 19 20 — 69
GREENUP CO. 9 20 12 9 — 59
Russell (69) — Gross 21, Parsley 19, Berry 3, Huddleston 11, Carter 7, Darnell 2, Hanson, Maynard, Harrison, Thompson. FT: 15-23. 3-PT FG: 8 (Gross 2, Parsley 3, Berry, Carter).
Greenup County (59) — Leslie 9, Jones 17, Campbell 10, Webb 8, Thompson 4, Steele 2, Valandingham, Burton, Wireman, Adans, FT: 8-14. 3-PT FG: 4 (Leslie 2, Jones 2).
E HOBSTETTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658.