Caps, gowns and district crowns.
Before walking across the stage in a few months, Russell’s seniors are getting good practice at climbing ladders and cutting nets.
For the first time in their careers, the oldest Red Devils earned a 63rd District title by way of a 62-43 defeat of Lewis County on Friday night at Raceland-Worthington High School.
“This is definitely the best team I’ve been a part of,” said sixth-year starting senior Kyle Skaggs. “Chemistry, talent, everything. We’re definitely confident going intot he region tournament.”
With juniors Johnny McGuire (flu) and Steven Estep (season-ending injury) on the sidelines, it was totally up to the seniors to add to the trophy case — Russell won the 16th Region All “A” Classic earlier this season.
“It was very appropriate that it was their game to win,” said Devils coach Merle Kidwell, who also won his first district since taking over the Russell boys program in 2008. “I’m happy for all eight of our seniors.”
Six seniors accounted for every single point Russell scored on Friday. Skaggs led the way with 22 points, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter. Jacob Porter and Lance Evans provided the punch early.
Porter drilled a 3-pointer to help Russell complete a 10-0 run to start the game, which trashed Lewis County’s game plan.
“We wanted to be patient going in, but when you start out (down) 10-0, it makes it hard to be real patient,” said Lions coach Joe Hampton.
Porter didn’t stop there. Open looks were given as Lewis County had trouble closing in on shooters in its zone defense.
Porter splashed in another deep ball from the top of the key before burying two more triples in the second period. He finished with 18 points.
Raceland’s gym automatically puts Porter in his comfort zone, he said.
“It feels normal shooting down here,” Porter said. “We’ve played so many games down here that it feels like home almost, between summer leagues for four years and playing here when our gym got flooded last year.”
Evans scored six of his eight total points in the first stanza, in which Russell held a 21-8 final margin. He also racked up a game-high 11 rebounds.
With McGuire out, Evans’ already-significant minutes increased even more. The level of expected production also elevated.
“I’m used to it,” he said. “I was a little winded but I like it that way.”
Ross Lane, a senior guard, stepped into a starting role and notched six points.
Googie Hayes added six points on two 3-pointers, both coming at pivotal times.
Lewis County (15-14) closed the gap to 10 following back-to-back buckets by Trenton Walker and Wade Adams in the third quarter. Hayes promptly stepped up and nailed a trey.
Just minutes later, Walker converted after a steal and assist by Brett Ruckel to trim Russell’s lead to 39-31.
With 1:52 remaining in the period, Hayes again cashed in from downtown.
Multiple Red Devils have displayed the ability to perform in clutch situations throughout the season.
“No matter who’s on the floor, we all trust each other,” Skaggs said. “We trust each other with the last shot and the first shot of the game. Whoever’s out there, we’ve got confidence in them. Luckily (Hayes) hit some big shots that were huge for us.”
Dylan Campbell, another senior, supplied the remaining two points off the bench. Seniors Jon Kennedy and Jacob Smith also saw the floor on Friday.
Contrary to Lewis County’s hopes, fouls were not a factor. The Lions try to get to the foul line early and often, as they average 30 free throw attempts a game.
They shot just six freebies and Russell tried just 13 — Skaggs was 10 of 12.
“That is our game. I felt like it was called differently tonight,” Hampton said. “I’m not saying that had anything to do with the score of this game. It’s just, what we did all year we weren’t able to do tonight.”
Ruckel recorded a team-best 16 points for Lewis County. Jake Parker added nine.
Russell (25-7) won its first district tournament since 2007.
Justin Bond (Greenup County), Jacob Blair (Raceland), Brett Ruckel (Lewis County), Lance Evans (Russell), Wade Adams (Lewis County), Sammy Holder (Lewis County), Jacob Porter (Russell), Googie Hayes (Russell).