One more win and the correct heads-or-tails call would catapult Russell into the No. 1 slot in the 63rd District tournament.
If Thursday night’s outcome is any indication, No. 2 might not be so bad, either.
Russell drilled Greenup County, 64-36, at Marvin Meredith Gymnasium in a game that the Lady Devils put well out of reach early. A Lady Devil defeat of Lewis County next Wednesday would force a tiebreaking coin flip to determine the top seed in the district. If Russell loses that matchup, a rematch between Russell and Greenup County will take place in the first round of the tournament.
The Lady Devils limited Greenup County to one field goal in the first quarter — following an 0-for-11 shooting start by the Lady Musketeers — to take a commanding 19-3 lead into the second quarter.
Primarily using a 3-2 zone defense, Russell made it a relaxing night for its coach.
“It was by far the best defensive effort we’ve had all year,” said Lady Devils coach Mandy Layne. “I thought we played great individual, and great team defense also.”
Greenup County shot a meager 23 percent (14 of 61) from the floor. That included a 5-of-32 mark in the first half.
Known for giving his players a constant green light, Lady Musketeers coach Mark Cantrell thought his team would make Russell pay for deciding to play zone, but he said they were too timid in the early going.
“They weren’t willing to pull the trigger, weren’t ready to catch and shoot,” Cantrell said. “I want teams to play in a zone. We’ll shoot that out all day long.”
Thanks, in large part, to guards Lexi Berry and Shelby Huddleston, Russell (10-12) was the team finding the nylon. The guards frequently found holes to deliver through to forwards Arden Gross and Hope Parsley.
Gross and Parsley scored 17 points apiece on a combined 14-of-20 shooting night.
A good deal of Russell’s points came in transition off missed Lady Musketeers buckets.
“(Berry and Huddleston) did a great job and made some great passes to our post players,” Layne said. “The past couple games, they have really stepped up for us, both defensively and offensively. They’re taking care of the ball better.”
Greenup County (11-14) managed a 10-0 run out of the second-half gate, cutting the Russell lead to 35-23. However, the spurt was short-lived as Parsley connected on back-to-back buckets before Huddleston and Berry each went coast to coast en route to easy lay-ins to extend the lead out to a comfortable 19.
Cantrell was disgusted with his team’s overall effort. Greenup County has seven of eight since defeating Russell, 50-41, on Jan. 2.
“Terrible effort,” he said. “I’ve got an eighth-grader, sweating, giving everything she’s got. You’d love to give her a break, but you can’t because she’s the one giving you all the effort.
“It just comes down to this team doesn’t have an identity,” the coach continued. “A coach cannot be a leader in the locker room, and I’ve got to have somebody step up and be a leader.”
Eighth-grader Sydney Webb tallied team-highs of 16 points and eight rebounds for the Lady Musketeers, who squandered their chance at a possible No. 1 seed.
Destiny Jones, the team’s season leading scorer and a senior, sat out the entire second half (coach’s decision). Haley Valandingham, who had worked her way into a starting role, missed the game with a high fever.
Russell used a Parsley-fueled 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to enjoy its largest lead of the game at 33 points. She added six rebounds while Gross had eight.
Riding a three-game winning streak, Russell has a date at Fleming County on Saturday before heading to Lewis County next Wednesday night.
“We are excited that we are in this position,” Layne said. “Lewis is probably the outright favorite. It’ll be a good challenge for us, but I know we’ll be ready to play.”
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.