After Rowan County cut Russell’s lead to three points with 1:30 to go, Red Devils senior Kyle Skaggs had four words for his teammates.
“I told my guys, I said, ‘Give me the ball,’” Skaggs said.
His actions spoke louder.
Back-to-back three-point plays helped Russell pull away from the Vikings late en route to a 62-55 win at Russell High School. It marked Russell’s 18th straight victory inside Marvin Meredith Gymnasium and ninth consecutive overall.
A determined Skaggs put a fine close on a 29-point night that started off shaky. On the second and-one play, Skaggs hesitated with a wide-open lane in front of him before accelerating to the bucket for an underhanded lay-in as he wilily drew a foul.
“(Rowan) had been playing out and spreading the floor the whole game,” Skaggs said. “I knew if I drove it, their big guys weren’t going to help too much, so I just took it to the rim. Luckily my teammates found me and I just went up strong.”
Rowan County (12-8) put the clamps on the 16th Region’s top scorer in the first quarter, as Skaggs took a goose egg into the second period.
Russell coach Merle Kidwell said the Vikings’ 2-3 zone gave his team trouble initially.
“You can’t really run any set play against that zone, so we just kind of played,” Kidwell said. “We wanted to get out in transition as much as we could, and in the second half, Kyle showed why he’s the best player in the region.”
Ramsey Mullins, off the bench, sparked the Red Devils’ offense with their first field goal at the 1:30 mark of the first quarter. He nailed two 3-pointers in total to provide a much-needed lift.
“We’ve been expecting that from Ramsey,” Kidwell said. “Once he hit that three, we saw what we saw out of Ramsey this past summer.”
Rowan County got a nice boost from the bench as well, from Ryan Callahan. Callahan made back-to-back buckets before Larry Whelan’s steal and a basket gave the Vikings a 20-13 lead in the second quarter.
“(Callahan), Justin (Graham), Isaac Lee and Larry Whelan are really doing a good job for us,” said Rowan County coach Shawn Thacker of his talented reserves. “We are pretty deep.”
The depth paid off because second-leading scorer Jalen Stone was saddled with early foul trouble and never got in an offensive flow.
Both teams exchanged big scoring runs bridging the second and third quarters, with Rowan County leading 40-38 after three.
Russell’s Jacob Porter finally hit a 3-pointer after missing his first six long-range attempts to give Russell a 46-43 advantage with 5:02 to go.
While the Red Devils never trailed again, a Callahan 3-pointer with 1:30 to go — which made it a 53-50 game — created an intense, spirited final stretch. Neither team seemed ready to surrender.
“It got heated down the stretch,” Skaggs said. “We’ve got the most passionate players on our team. We want to win more than anything.”
Kidwell called knocking off the two-time defending region champions a “statement win.”
“They’ve got what we want,” Kidwell said, alluding to the pair of recent titles.
Matt Brown led Rowan County with 13 points and eight rebounds. Tyler Thacker chipped in 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The loss snapped the Vikings’ four-game winning string.
Lance Evans narrowly missed a double-double with eight points and 10 boards for Russell (18-4).
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.