Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 6, 2014

East finds equation (includes video)

Lady Raiders use early 3-pointers, steady defense to get to 31 wins

Rocky Stanley
The Independent


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.

The Lady Raiders threatened to break it open early in the second half on Stickler's putback and Mayo's  steal-and-score.

Instead, Russell mounted a comeback. Hannah Carter hit from behind the arc to cap a 7-0 run that trimmed the deficit to six points with 3:17 remaining in the third quarter.

“I feel like our team has been resilient all year,” said Layne, whose team bounced Boyd County in the regional tournament opener. “They have continued to fight and fight all year long.”

Easterling wasn't surprised to see the Lady Devils battle their way back into the game.

“They were the hot team from Tuesday and came in with confidence,” he said. “For a long stretch tonight they had more energy.”

East Carter turned up its defense, however, and outscored Russell 10-0 to end the third quarter for a 40-24 advantage. Bryana Greenhill, who finished with three steals, lit the spark with her quick hands. She made two free throws following her own takeaway. Shortly after, a Russell player tried to throw the ball off Greenhill's legs along the baseline but she caught it for one of the Lady Devils' 11 turnovers in the quarter.

“We changed our pressure more to a zone press and got a lot of good things out of it,” Easterling said.

Said Layne: “I think we got a little fatigued there. We had a few turnovers in a row, and allowed them to open it to 15.”

The momentum carried over to the fourth quarter as East Carter's bench scored eight consecutive points. Alexis Pennington's layup made it 47-24 after Stumbo blocked a shot at the other end of the floor.

Stumbo contributed five blocks overall to the Lady Raiders' strong defensive effort. Mayo led the team in steals with four.

Hall scored 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, to go with three assists and two steals. Bayes had nine points.

For Russell (21-12), Maggie Jachimczuk had nine points and nine rebounds, while Carter also totaled nine points.

“I want to thank my three seniors,” Layne said of Carter, Lexi Berry and Hayley Sparks. “They were my first group to completely go through. They have have been such a big part of our success, leading us to the (region) final four the last two years.”      

ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at rstanley@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2671.