RUSSIA — The Shelby County Athletic League title comes down to Friday’s matchup between two of the league’s perennial favorites. And no matter the outcome, Russia has already clinched at least a share of its fifth consecutive title.
Fort Loramie (19-2, 9-2 SCAL) will travel to Clair C. Naveau Gymnasium to take on the Raiders (13-6, 10-1) at 8 p.m. in front of what will almost certainly be a capacity crowd.
Fort Loramie beat Russia 47-32 when the teams first met in league action on Jan. 5. The Redskins have lost twice to Anna (17-4, 9-2) since, while Russia beat the Rockets by two points on Jan. 30. The Raiders also beat Anna 57-56 on Dec. 19.
Russia can win the title outright with a win, while Fort Loramie can tie for the title with a win. The Rockets can also tie for the league title with a win over Fairlawn on Friday and a Loramie win.
“Any time you play Russia, you’ve got to be physical and match that intensity and rebound the basketball,” Fort Loramie coach Corey Britton said. “I thought we did those well the first time around. They’re playing really well right now, so it’s a whole other animal, especially at their place.”
The Redskins’ January win was its first regular-season victory against the Raiders in five years. It’s the smallest scoring output Russia has had this season.
Fort Loramie controlled the boards in the first game, which is easier said than done against Russia’s lineup, which features four players between 6-foot-3 and 6-5. Fort Loramie 6-7 senior center Tyler Siegel is the team’s only player over 6-2.
“They’re probably the biggest team in the County, by far,” Britton said. “With (Daniel) Kearns, (Jack) Dapore and (Hunter) Cohee, they’re all big, long and very athletic and very well-coached. It makes (rebounding) the number one goal every time we play.”
Russia lost to Delphos Jefferson 66-59 last Saturday, which snapped a four-game winning streak. The Raiders have won five of their last six games after dropping to 8-5 with a loss to Versailles on Jan. 27.
Russia averaged 43 points per game through its first 12 games and has averaged 56 through its last seven. That’s been a welcome change for third-year coach Spencer Cordonnier, but he said there is still plenty to work on — namely, holding on to leads late in games.
“We’ve blown some leads as of late,” Cordonnier said. “We’ve really got to concentrate on handling pressure situations a lot better than we have been. Like last (Saturday), we fought our tails off in the third quarter to get back in the game and actually take a 10- or 12-point lead and got in the fourth quarter, and the trend the last three or four games has carried over.
“We’ve got to start handling those situations a lot better than we have been, or we’re going to lose some more games because of it. We’ve got tough opponents this week, so it’s a good opportunity for us.”
The Redskins, which are ranked No. 5 in Division IV in the current state AP poll, lost to Anna by five points last Saturday in their final home game.
After losing to Anna on Jan. 23, the Redskins bounced back with six consecutive wins, including a win over Midwest Athletic Conference champ Marion Local on Feb. 3.
“We don’t have much of a choice, we have to (bounce back),” Britton said. “If we don’t, we won’t get that third goal of the year, which is to win the County. We’ve got to bounce back if we want to put Saturday night behind us. We’ve got to be better.”
Fort Loramie was without Siegel against Anna on Saturday. Siegel was sick and couldn’t play, and senior guard Evan Berning played through an illness against the Rockets.
“We’re feeling better, and ready to go play,” Britton said. “We’ve had two good nights of practice, and that’s always exciting and encouraging.”
Though Loramie won the first matchup by 15 points, Britton said the team isn’t counting on another big win.
“What Spencer has done in his three years has been great,” Britton said. “He’s one of the best around, and he’s going to have them ready to play. It’s going to be a battle and a grueling game. We’ve just got to be ready to match it and grind one out.”
Friday’s game is the last of the season for Fort Loramie. Russia will play at Marion Local on Saturday to wrap up regular-season play.
The teams will start tournament play next week. Fort Loramie is the No. 1 seed in the Piqua Division IV sectional and Russia is No. 2.
The Redskins will face No. 12 Mechanicsburg to open postseason play on Feb. 24. Russia will play the winner of No. 9 Lehman Catholic vs. No. 11 Covington on Feb. 27. All games in the sectional are at Piqua’s Garbry Gymnasium.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.