LEXINGTON Russell has taken pride in its defense all season.
Unfortunately, the Lady Devils could not find enough offense in the second half to advance in the girls Sweet Sixteen on Friday night against Henderson County.
Russell battled foul trouble during the contest. Facing an early 25-9 deficit, the Lady Devils rattled off nine straight points and eventually closed the margin to 27-23 with consecutive buckets from Kaeli Ross.
Russell cooled off in the third quarter and Lady Colonels made their free throws down the stretch to prevail, 64-53, at Rupp Arena in the state tournament quarterfinals.
Henderson County thought it fortunes improved after freshman Shaelyn Steele left the contest early in the second quarter and had to sit for the final seven minutes of the first half with three fouls.
Ross showed off her shooting skills in Steele’s absence. The senior was 4 of 5 from the field in the second frame and scored 12 points.
Ross said the Lady Devils can compete on the big stage with the state’s best teams. The defending 16th Region champions finally got to display their talents at the state tournament after the event was canceled last year. She finished with a team-high 22 points.
“From where we were at the beginning to where we are now,” Ross said, “it’s earned the respect that we needed, and we always wanted. I think more respect will come to us and the program in the future.”
Aubrey Hill hit in the lane and Ross connected on a wing jumper to trim Henderson County’s lead to 30-27 in the closing seconds of the first half. The Lady Colonels quickly got the ball down court and Savannah Lacer nailed a corner 3 before the halftime buzzer.
“This is what we have been fighting for since last year when we got sent home,” Henderson County coach Jeff Haile said. “We worked hard throughout the year. Our goal was to come here and win a state championship. We knew we had a good team. … Our bench did a great job tonight. Savannah Lacer handled the ball, knocked down free throws and hit a big shot at the end of the second quarter.”
It started a string of eight straight points into the third stanza. Henderson County increased the advantage back to double digits by the end of the frame as Russell hit just 2 of 10 field goals.
“I think we were a little frustrated,” Russell coach Mandy Layne said. “Unfortunately, there were some things that didn’t go our way like easy baskets and free throws. We weren’t able to get some stops when we needed them and trying to dig out of that early deficit hurt us.”
The two teams combined for 59 free throws attempts. The Lady Colonels made 17 shots from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Guard Sadie Wurth was 18 of 21 from the line but was just 4 of 13 from the field. She led her team with 27 points.
“It was hard to stay focused, but I knew I had to do it for my team and for myself,” Wurth said. “I have wanted this moment bad. Even when my shots weren’t falling, I can still do other things to help us win the game.”
Henderson County (20-4) has allowed just 37 points a game this season. Russell was just the sixth team to score over 50 points against the Lady Colonels.
Jarie Thomas and Lacer each had 10 points for Henderson County.
Aubrey Hill tallied 18 points and eight rebounds for Russell. The senior was named to the All-Tournament team.
“I’m really excited that I made the All-Tournament team,” Hill said. “We did a lot to get here. We worked really hard to get here. I am so proud of my team and I am so proud of the opportunity to play at Rupp Arena. We didn’t play just one game. We played two. I would have liked to go further but I am proud of what we did.”
The Lady Devils end their season at 20-6 and won their first Sweet Sixteen game since 1976 with a first round win against Dixie Heights.
“I’m just so proud of this group,” Layne said, “and all the adversity we had to overcome this season. It started out really rough for us. We missed the first three weeks of the season. We continued to battle and got that big win (on Thursday night). I can’t fault their effort at all.”
“They battled to the end,” she added. “This group made history. They have left an unbelievable legacy. They will be remembered forever.”
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RUSSELL FG FT REB TP
Steele 3-7 2-5 0 8
B. Quinn 0-3 0-0 1 0
Adkins 0-4 1-2 4 1
Ross 8-14 3-6 6 22
Hill 6-14 6-7 8 18
Maynard 0-0 0-0 0 0
Sanders 0-0 0-0 0 0
Hester 0-0 0-0 0 0
Atkins 0-1 2-2 3 2
A. Quinn 0-0 0-0 1 0
Oborne 0-0 0-0 0 0
Jachimczuk 0-0 2-2 2 2
TOTAL 17-43 16-24 26 53
FG Pct: 39.5. FT Pct: 66.7. 3-point FGs: 3-7 (B. Quinn 0-1, Ross 3-6) PF: 25 Fouled out: Steele, Atkins. Turnovers: 13
HENDERSON CO. FG FT REB TP
Thomas 5-7 0-1 7 10
Wurth 4-13 18-21 3 27
Kemp 2-3 1-2 2 5
Hubbard 0-1 0-0 1 0
Dixon 1-3 0-1 11 2
Veal 1-1 1-2 1 3
Lacer 2-3 5-6 2 10
Risley 2-4 1-2 1 7
Gibson 0-0 0-0 0 0
TOTAL 17-35 26-35 28 64
FG Pct: 48.6. FT Pct: 74.3. 3-point FGs: 4-10 (Wurth 1-7, Lacer 1-1, Risley 2-2) PF: 20. Fouled out: Kemp. Turnovers: 13.
RUSSELL 7 20 6 20 — 53
HENDERSON CO. 22 11 10 21 — 64
Officials—Anthony Childress, Michelle Garnder, Darrell Wilson