FORT LORAMIE — A matchup of the Shelby County Athletic League’s two first-place teams on Saturday wasn’t a showcase of high-caliber basketball. Fort Loramie coach Carla Siegel described it as a “dog fight.”
Both teams struggled to hold onto the ball and make shots. With the relative inexperience of Fort Loramie’s roster, Siegel was worried that wouldn’t bode well as the game went on.
But the Redskins held on late to beat Russia 29-23 and stay in first place in the league with a 6-0 record. The Raiders dropped to 9-3 overall and 5-1 in the SCAL with the loss.
All but two of Fort Loramie’s eight-player rotation on Saturday are freshman or sophomores, while five of seven players Russia used are upperclassmen and have played on varsity multiple years.
“It’s good to be in a dog fight and come out on the winning end,” Siegel said. “They had four of their top six players back from last year, so they’re a very experienced club.
“For us to play a gritty game like this, a tight close game the whole way through, and come out on the winning side is huge. I hope’s it huge for our confidence and good for the young girls to see that when you stay with what we want to do, it works. Hopefully we just keep climbing the latter of our season.”
Russia shot 8 for 28 (29 percent) from the field and had 34 turnovers unofficially, while Fort Loramie shot 5 for 34 (15 percent) from the field and had 20 turnovers.
“We didn’t make many of the easy buckets, but that’s not what lost us the game,” Russia coach Andy Timmerman said. “Offensively, we did not take care of the ball and did not make good decisions. We did not communicate enough, did not get in the right position.
“That’s what it comes down to. If we lost just because the shots didn’t fall, that’s a different story. That’s more than just the shots not falling. Offensively, we just did not play well.”
Fort Loramie led 14-13 at halftime. Taylor Ratermann hit a 3-pointer 30 seconds into the third to put the Redskins up by four points, and their lead hovered around that margin for the rest of the game.
Ratermann, a freshman, scored six points and guarded Russia junior guard Jenna Cordonnier for most of the game. Siegel said Ratermann is improving on offense and credited her defensive effort for holding Cordonnier to six points.
“We’re working on her confidence and her shooting ability,” Siegel said. “I love it when we call plays and she’s ready to shoot. There was about three or four more times today where I thought she should have shot, but she didn’t. She’s coming around.”
Cameo Wilson made a basket with 6:06 left in the fourth to pull Russia within 23-20. After Kennedi Gephart hit a basket for Loramie 30 seconds later, Cordonnier made a free throw to pull Russia within 25-21.
Russia had two steals over the next 90 seconds but missed layup attempts after each.
“Those are a couple of baskets we’ve just got to knock down,” Timmerman said. “We were playing good defense and those were a couple of good transition opportunities, but it just goes back to turnovers. Way too many in the first half for an entire game, and we had probably that many in the second half as well.”
Gephart hit two free throws with 3:02 left to give Loramie a 27-21 lead. Kenzie Hoelscher closed out the win for Fort Loramie with a layup in the final 30 seconds.
Fort Loramie benefited from shooting 16 for 19 (84 percent) from the free-throw line. Russia was 7 for 15 (47 percent).
Gephart led Fort Loramie with nine points, while Jadyn Puthoff added six. Wilson led Russia with nine points and Laurissa Poling scored five.
Poling, a 6-foot-0 junior center, is Russia’s leading scorer. Siegel was pleased Fort Loramie contained Poling on offense but said the Redskins struggled to get shots in the post against her.
“They did a good job taking away the middle game,” Siegel said. “We couldn’t get a shot inside to save our lives. I feel like every time we had a timeout to set a play, they forced a turnover. They battled all game.”
Russia plays next on Tuesday at St. Marys, while Fort Loramie (9-4) hosts Anna on Thursday.
The two teams will face off again on Feb. 8 at Russia, and Timmerman said the Raiders need to improve on offense by then.
“Credit to (Fort Loramie) for pressuring us and putting us in those situations, but there were a lot of them where we just didn’t make a good decision and just threw it away,” Timmerman said. “… We’ve got a long ways to go before then, so hopefully we can improve before then. Improve a lot more offensively and take care of the ball from here to then.”
Cordonnier hit a shot with 4:35 left in the first quarter to give Russia a 5-1 lead, but Loramie scored three of the next four points to pull within one. Cordonnier added another inside basket with 1:15 left, then Shea Borchers scored on a long jump shot with three seconds left in the first to give Russia a 9-4 lead.
The Redskins took control quickly in the third quarter. Puthoff hit two free throws with 7:49 left, then Gephart and Ratermann hit consecutive 3-pointers to give Fort Loramie a 12-9 lead with 6:16 left.
Marissa Meiring hit a basket with 5:06 left to increase the lead to 14-10. Fort Loramie didn’t score again in the second and Russia cut the deficit to one point at halftime after a basket by Wilson and a free throw by Laurissa Poling in the final 90 seconds.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.