Boyd County has gotten down right defensive about a third consecutive trip to the Girls 16th Region championship game.
For the second time in three days, the Lady Lions held an opponent below 25 percent from the field at Morehead State University's Johnson Arena.
Monday night, Russell became the second consecutive district champion to find Boyd's 3-2 zone as prickly as wading through a briar patch.
Coach Pete Fraley's squad held the Lady Devils to 9-for-37 shooting (24.3 percent) in winning the semifinal game 47-33.
“Boyd is super aggressive out of that defense,” Russell coach Mandy Layne said. “It's tough to find good shots.”
As a result, Boyd County will play Ashland tonight at 7 in the regional final for the third year in a row. The Kittens did their share by defeating Lewis County 69-59 in Monday's second semifinal.
“It feels great,” Fraley said after guiding the Lady Lions to the championship game a seventh time — third-best in tournament history behind West Carter's Hop Brown (10) and Rowan County's Claudia Hicks (9). “At the beginning of the year, you want to be here. We put ourselves in position to have a shot (tonight).”
Along with the stingy defensive effort, Boyd County posted a 41-26 rebounding advantage and allowed Russell zero second-chance points.
“It was like one shot each time,” said Lady Lions senior Emily Stewart, who grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds to lead the team.
Stewart played down low in the zone defense. When she grabs the ball coming off the rim, it makes for an easy transition into her offensive role as point guard.
“If I get the ball, I can go with it,” Stewart said.
Boyd County (27-8) nearly put three rebounders in double figures. Active post player Morgan Kenser pulled down 10 and Logan Fraley followed with nine. Kenser also blocked five shots, giving her eight in the tournament.
“Morgan inside is playing well,” said her coach. “She's clogging a lot of things up.”
Boyd County beat Russell 75-43 at the start of the season and was on the way to a repeat after building a 12-point lead in the first quarter.
Russell (15-17) dug in, however, cutting the deficit to three in the second quarter and hung around in the second half.
“I'm super proud of my kids,” Lady Devils coach Mandy Layne said. “I thought our defense was absolutely outstanding the whole game. If we could have just made a few more shots.”
Arden Gross and Shelby Huddleston had back-to-back baskets to get Russell within 40-30 late in the third quarter, but Kenser answered with a putback of a missed free throw in the closing seconds.
Boyd's Stewart scored 10 points as part of her double-double. The reliable veteran also supplied four steals, two assists and committed just one turnover while playing 31 minutes.
“The one turnover is my favorite part,” Stewart said. “The most important thing to me is my execution.”
Stewart is excited to be back in the regional championship game for the third straight year.
“It's crazy,” she said. “I just have to give it all I've got. There's no reason to be nervous. If I put my best effort out, I can't be disappointed.”
Logan Fraley and eighth-grader Hunter Reeves each made three 3-pointers for the Lady Lions, who connected on only 33 percent from the floor. Fraley finished with a team-high 14 points.
Russell senior Arden Gross went 3-for-3 from behind the 3-point line as part of a 13-point night to lead her team.
“She really stepped up in key situations to cut the deficit,” Layne said. “Arden stayed aggressive, and looked to attack all night long.”
Layne applauded her team's progress over the course of the season.
“I feel like we made unbelievable strides,” she said. “We accomplished a lot by winning the (63rd) district and making it to the final four.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.