RUSSELL When top-ranked Anderson County was looking for a game this weekend and Russell came calling, coach Clay Birdwhistell said the team didn’t hesitate to make the trip on Saturday.
“We need this,” Birdwhistell said. “We need to play really good teams, that are really well-coached, and take away things that we like to do. We are not worried about going undefeated or rankings. We just have to get better.”
“As bad as the first half was and frustrating as it was to coach, it was so good for our team,” he continued. "I felt like we got better learning how to play through that adversity. It is something that will have a tangible benefit later next month in the postseason.”
The visiting Lady Bearcats received a serious challenge from the Lady Devils. Anderson County trailed by 10 points at halftime but produced a third-quarter rally and held off the Russell charge for a 48-45 win at Marvin Meredith Gym.
“I was really happy with our defensive effort,” Russell coach Mandy Layne said. “We held them to 48 points, and they average 68 points a game. We were right there with a shot to tie the game at the end.”
The Lady Devils mixed up their defenses but primarily stayed with a 1-2-2 zone. The Lady Bearcats accrued six turnovers in the first quarter and started to settle for shots behind the arc.
Anderson County was missing the services of 6-foot-1 center Jacie Chesser but Birdwhistell liked the way his team adjusted to the Russell game plan in the second half and started to play inside more.
“You have to give Russell a lot of credit,” Birdwhistell said. “They are a handful. Clearly, they are one of the favorites in this region. It’s the reason we drove up here. We wanted to compete with very good players. We were small without Chesser. In the first half, it looked like we were running a shell drill offense. We never went inside at all.”
Russell also found success on offense in the first two quarters and extended the lead to double digits on three occasions in the second stanza.
“We did a really job getting out on shooters until they started getting the back side on us,” Layne said of Russell’s zone defense. “Unfortunately, in the second half, we got a little tired and it started to wear us down a bit.”
It was only the second game of the season that Russell (5-4) has played with its full roster available. That has allowed several players to gain valuable experience and confidence to compete with the state’s No. 1 team.
“We obviously didn’t get the preparation that we wanted,” Layne said. “I like that we are deciding that we can play with any team in the state. It is a major positive. I think it will continue to improve the quality of our program.”
Kaeli Ross scored all 10 of her points in the second quarter, including a pair of triples. Bella Quinn knocked another one down from long range. Ross’s jumper before halftime sent the Lady Devils to the locker room with a 31-21 advantage.
“I’ve got to help them,” Birdwhistell said. “We tell them but sometimes I need to call a timeout and demand it. We got there eventually. In the second half, we attacked the rim much better, especially in the fourth quarter. The first half was about as ugly a zone offense as you are going to find.”
The Lady Bearcats started to reduce the deficit after the break. Tiffani Riley accounted for three straight buckets during a quick 7-3 spurt. Amiya Jenkins ended the frame with a basket to cut the margin to 40-38 heading into the fourth.
Jenkins, Anderson County’s leading scorer, spent much of first half on the bench with foul trouble. She posted her team’s first five points of the final quarter to give the Lady Bearcats their first lead since the score was 2-1.
“I was really proud of Amiya,” Birdwhistell said, “after having to sit for as long as she did and come out with the intensity that she did. It’s really easy to come in and be flat after sitting so long. We came out and started to chip away at that lead with her sitting next to me.”
“During the first four minutes of the second half, the girls on the floor did a good job and the bench was into it,” he added. “When (Jenkins) came in, she could feel that momentum. It was a much easier transition.”
Campbell Jachimczuk responded with a corner 3 to get the Lady Devils back on top. But Sophie Smith splashed in a triple moments later to give the Lady Bearcats the lead for good.
Shaelyn Steele followed his own miss to cut the deficit to two points and Russell had one last chance to tie the score in regulation but could not get a shot off under the basket with two seconds remaining.
“(Birdwhistell) ran a different type of defense in the second half so kudos to him,” Layne said. “We talked about it in the locker room. We forced some shots. We will just have to go back and work on what we are going to do in those situations.”
Jenkins tallied a team-high 15 points for Anderson County (15-0). Riley finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double. Paige Serafini added 11 points.
Steele also netted a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Quinn had eight points for Russell.
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ANDERSON CO. FG FT REB TP
Smith 2-7 1-2 3 7
R. Satterly 0-3 1-2 1 1
Serafini 3-8 0-0 1 11
Jenkins 5-7 5-8 6 15
Riley 5-7 3-5 11 14
J. Satterly 0-5 0-0 1 0
Johnson 0-0 0-0 1 0
TOTAL 15-37 10-17 26 48
FG Pct: 40.5. FT Pct: 58.8. 3-point FGs: 6-19 (Smith 2-5, R. Satterly 0-3, Serafini 3-6, Riley 1-1, J. Satterly 0-4) PF: 7. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 13.
RUSSELL FG FT REB TP
Steele 5-12 4-6 10 16
Quinn 3-4 0-0 3 8
Adkins 1-8 0-0 3 2
Ross 4-13 0-0 4 10
Hill 2-3 2-2 6 6
Atkins 0-1 0-0 0 0
Jachimczuk 1-3 0-0 2 3
TOTAL 16-44 6-8 28 45
FG Pct: 36.7. FT Pct: 75.0. 3-point FGs: 7-16 (Steele 2-3, Quinn 2-3, Adkins 0-2, Ross 2-5, Jachimczuk 1-3) PF: 13. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 9.
ANDERSON CO. 10 11 17 10 — 48
RUSSELL 14 17 9 5 — 45
Officials: Dave Fields, Tyler Maynard, Charlie Graham