By MATT FULTZ
For The Independent
Lewis County coach Joe Hampton knew what was coming, he just didn’t know how his team would respond.
Despite being up 16 with seven minutes remaining, the longtime Lions coach knew Raceland would make at least one run at his team.
And run the Rams did, to the tune of 12 straight points in a little over a minute-and-a-half stretch. Lewis County survived, though, to edge Raceland, 71-67 on Tuesday night to move on to the 63rd District Tournament championship game against Russell. The title is up for grabs on Friday at 7 p.m. at Raceland-Worthington High School.
“Postseason basketball is all about runs,” Hampton said. “Basketball is naturally a game of runs, but I think it seems like it is even more so in the postseason.”
Hampton didn’t wait long to see how his team would respond to the Rams’ 12-0 spurt. The Lions rattled off six points in a row of their own.
And for the rest of the night that was how it went. A Raceland run, followed quickly by a Lewis County answer.
“This is just a sign of us growing up from last year to this year,” Hampton said. “Part of the process has been learning how to withstand runs. We haven’t always done it. We have had a few times where we have tucked our tail, but tonight was just another step in that process of growing up.”
Most every time the Lions really needed a basket, they were able to get it from the free-throw line, where they finished 24 of 32 on the night.
“We executed well at the free-throw line,” Hampton said. “We finished at 75 percent, and put them in positions where they had to kill the clock in order to get possessions back.”
Junior point guard Wade Adams was a perfect 6 for 6 from the charity stripe. Hampton said having a point guard who can make free throws in late game situations is a luxury for a coach.
“It means a ton, because the ball is in his hands so much,” he said. “It is huge for a coach to feel confident putting the ball in a player like Wade’s hands.”
While Lewis County (15-13) was continually helping itself at the line, Raceland (11-18) was doing anything but doing itself any favors as the Rams finished just 6 of 14 from the foul stripe.
“We had our chances and the free-throw line hurt us again down the stretch,” Raceland coach Bob Trimble said. “That has been a bugaboo for us this year.”
Much of the Rams’ 28-point fourth quarter was centered around the play of Jacob Blair and Connor Messer.
Blair, who led all scorers with 26 points, did a little bit of everything to keep the Rams in it from knocking down a big three to coming up with three steals in just over a minute.
Messer, who was plagued by foul trouble most of the night, asserted himself in the final quarter, scoring nine of his 14 points in the final stanza.
“We need him on the floor, he is our best rebounder and makes our offense run so much smoother,” Trimble said. “He played really well, when he was finally able to come back in.”
Caleb Pruitt came off the bench for Lewis County to score nine points, which Hampton called the X-factor of the game.
“He was huge,” he said. “He has had some games where he played limited minutes and he has also started games, but tonight we couldn’t afford to take him out. We talk about somebody coming off the bench to be the X-factor and he was that tonight.”
Lewis Co. 49
The Lewis County Lady Lions held Raceland to just 15 points in the first half, but coach Jay Fite still wasn’t satisfied.
The second half was much more to his liking as his team held the Lady Rams to just one field goal in the opening 12 minutes of the second half as they cruised to a victory at Raceland.
They will play Russell in the championship game on Thursday night at 7.
“We were just a little tentative early on,” Fite said. “When we are tentative we foul more than when we are aggressive. We were reaching and doing some uncharacteristic things there early, but I am pleased with the way that we put the clamps down there early in the third and fourth quarter.”
Lewis County (16-11) used its defense to create offense, outscoring the Lady Rams 15-4 in the third quarter, something Fite keyed on at halftime.
“We talked about it being a game of runs, and wanted to see if we could come out in the third quarter and put a little run together and extend the lead,” he said. “Once the lead got to 15 we started to hit our stride.”
Jaycey Fite helped build that lead with her shooting from the outside, where she connected on three 3-pointers in a four-minute span of the third and fourth quarters.
Fite finished with 10 points and was joined in double figures by Emily Frye and Savannah Anderson. Frye tallied 12, while Anderson scored 11.
Raceland (5-23) was led by a double-double from Krystal Keeton. The freshman scored 18 points to go along with 12 rebounds.
RACELAND 4 11 4 14 — 33
LEWIS CO. 11 12 15 11 — 49
Raceland (33) — Delcourt 3, Penix 4, Cotton 5, Keeton 18, Vanderhoof 3, Mackie, Sipps, Grubb, Fenney, Fritz, Barker, Bryant, Williams, Johnson, Flocker. FT: 7-13. 3-point FGs: 4 (Delcourt, Keeton 2, Vanderhoof). PF: 16. Fouled out: none. Turnovers: 28.
Lewis County (49) — T. Frye 6. Em. Frye 12, Hardin 3, Anderson 11, Fite 10, Thompson 7, Liles, Blake, Highfield, Pick, Ruggles, Stone, Er. Frye.. FT: 10-17. 3-point FGs: 5 (Em. Frye 2, Fite 3). PF: 13. Fouled out: none. Turnovers: 18.