Razor-sharp 3-point shooting early and dynamite defense down the stretch.
East Carter used the formula for a school-record 31st win Thursday night and, more importantly, a spot in tonight's 16th Region championship game.
The Lady Raiders came up with 10 second-half steals and turned away Russell 51-38 in the semifinals at Johnson Arena.
So focused is coach Hager Easterling's squad on the big picture that junior Megan Stickler said she had no idea that East Carter's latest victory broke the school record.
“That's awesome,” said Stickler, who led the Lady Raiders' balanced offense with 12 points. “I didn't know that. We are not just satisfied with the region. We want to make it really far in the State Tournament.”
East Carter faces two-time defending champion Ashland at 7 p.m., with the winner moving on to the Sweet Sixteen at Western Kentucky University.
Ranked eighth in the final Associated Press state poll, East Carter ran its record to 31-2. The school's 2003-04 team went 30-5 and reached the State Tournament's Elite Eight.
“I've been blessed to have a lot of good players,” is how Easterling explains his 401 wins as head coach of the Lady Raiders. “This team loves to compete. There are more things they want to accomplish.”
East Carter came out sizzling Thursday, burying its first four 3-point attempts. Stickler, Kristen Mayo, Kelsey Stumbo and Ashley Bayes each connected during a 16-2 blitz to open the game.
“At any time, East Carter has five on the floor that can drive, score and shoot the 3,” Russell coach Mandy Layne. “They can put a lot of pressure on you offensively and defensively.”
East Carter's outside shooting quickly cooled off after the torrid start, though Haley Hall and Stickler each hit a 3-pointer later in the second quarter for a 26-17 halftime lead.