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Russell’s Kaeli Ross grabs a rebound against Boyd County’s Harley Paynter Saturday March 7, 2020, during the Girls 16th Region Championship in Morehead, Ky. Photo by Taylor Johnson

MOREHEAD Russell coach Mandy Layne was somewhat prophetic on Saturday when junior Kaeli Ross showed up at the Lady Devils’ gym to crank up a few shots in hopes of shaking off a recent cold spell.

“I had a talk with her and I just told her she just needed to calm down and she was going to play her best game,” Layne said.

Just a couple minutes into the 16th Region championship, though, Ross hit the deck hard when fighting for a ball near the Russell basket. She banged her right shoulder and head against the Morehead State hardwood.

“I was shocked to begin with, but I didn’t think it was going to be anything major,” Ross said. “I was in shock, and I was like, oh my gosh, what happened? Then I went off (the court) and was like, oh, I’m good. I took some Ibuprofen because my head started hurting, but I was fine.

“I guess it knocked some sense into me!” Ross quipped.

Ross returned with a mission in mind. She zeroed in on the hoop, and found it often, scoring nine points — and blocking a shot, to boot — over the final 2:52 of the first. She poured in a career-best 33 points, including four 3-pointers (on five tries). She was 10 of 14 from the field and 9 of 12 from the foul line in 29 minutes. Ross posted six rebounds, too, as the Lady Devils put away Boyd County, 75-57.

She collected the 16th Region Tournament Most Valuable Player award, selected by members of the media.

“Give her credit, man,” Layne said. “She just fought and it lit a fire under her.”

Ross managed just 14 points over the first two games of the tournament. To be fair, seven of her 10 points in the semifinal round came during a pivotal spurt against Rowan County. Still, motivation mounted.

“Knowing I wasn’t hitting my shots like I usually do, I went in early and shot around just to get the feel of it and in the game, whenever I was making them, I was like, yeah, OK, I feel it. I just went off, I guess.”

Added Layne: “I was just super, super, super excited for her and the way she stepped up tonight because we all know she’s capable of that every night.”

All-Tournament Team

Audrey Biggs (Boyd Co.), Brooke Blevins (Rowan Co.), Kallie Burchett (West Carter), Haven Ford (Rowan Co.), Aubrey Hill (Russell), Aliyah Horsley (Lewis Co.), Mikayla Martin (Ashland), Gracie Opell (Boyd Co.), Harley Paynter (Boyd Co.), Kaeli Ross (Russell), Bailey Rucker (Boyd Co.), Shaelyn Steele (Russell), Alyssa Stickler (East Carter), Allie Stone (West Carter), Kelsie Woodard (Menifee Co.) Most Valuable Player: Kaeli Ross (Russell).

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asnyder@dailyindependent.com

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