SIDNEY — Russia and Fairlawn are two of the youngest teams in the Shelby County Athletic League, and that’s led to some inconsistency by both squads.
There were plenty of spurts of inconsistency in an SCAL matchup between the two on Tuesday at Fairlawn, but the Raiders played well late and pulled away to a 49-31 victory.
It’s the third win in the last four games for the Raiders (5-3, 3-2 SCAL), which will look to keep the hot streak going on Saturday when they host Minster.
“The last two or three weeks have been really good practices,” Russia coach Andy Timmerman said. “For the most part, they’ve translated it over in the game. They’re competing in practice and getting each other better.”
The Raiders have struggled scoring consistently, especially against experienced opponents like SCAL leaders Fort Loramie and Anna. Russia lost 71-15 to Fort Loramie on Nov. 30 and 36-22 at Anna on Dec. 7.
The team’s top two scorers from last season in Jenna Cordonnier and Laurissa Poling both graduated, in addition to a couple of other players. Four the team’s 13 players are seniors while six are underclassmen.
“It’s been an adjustment, but several girls are stepping up in different roles,” Timmerman said. “They’re stepping up even a little differently than I anticipated. …It’s a learning curve for us. I think we’re definitely a different team now than we were in our first couple of games.”
Senior guard Jessica York and junior forward Ashley Scott have been two of the squad’s most consistent scorers, but others have been able to score — including 6-foot-1 freshman forward Kate Sherman, who has been the leading scorer the last two games.
Sherman scored 14 points both on Thursday and in a 50-35 win over Botkins last Saturday. Timmerman said she’s progressing well and is helping fill the void in the post left by Poling, along with 6-0 sophomore forward Ella Hoehne.
“She plays strong and plays physical,” Timmerman said of Sherman. “She’ll get you those offensive rebounds and she’ll get in the right position in the post and go up strong. She’s impressed me so far, and I look forward to her continuing to improve just being a freshman. She’s learning well.”
Russia also got a scoring burst on Thursday from senior guard Olivia Moorman. Moorman, who is one of five returning letterwinners from last year’s 15-10 squad, finished with nine points. She’s also become one of the team’s best defenders.
“Definitely one of the area’s she’s improved since last year is her defense, being able to play on the ball and off the ball,” Timmerman said. “She’s been a lot better at anticipating things and reacting quicker.”
The loss is the most recent in a tough stretch to open the season for the Jets (2-5, 0-5). The squad has also played both Fort Loramie and Anna and also had tough consecutive games with Botkins earlier in the month.
“It’s been a really tough schedule so far,” Fairlawn coach Gavin Cathcart said. “We’re young, and we’ve got wins coming.”
Fairlawn has three seniors on its 14-man roster, only one of which starts. Eight of the team’s players are underclassmen.
“We’re learning,” Cathcart said. “We’re only playing five or six girls right now. We played with Russia for three quarters tonight, but we just couldn’t finish it off because we were tired.”
Fairlawn hit four consecutive free throws to pull within 27-23 midway through the third quarter but had a flurry of late turnovers, and Russia capitalized to pull away.
Sherman hit consecutive baskets late in the third to increase the lead to 31-23, then Hoehne followed with another basket in the post with 13 seconds left to push the lead to 10.
Sherman, Moorman and Katelyn Monnin each added another four points in the fourth and Hoehne and York each added two to power a 16-6 scoring advantage.
“We just ran out of gas,” Cathcart said. “They’re playing nine, 10 girls and we’re playing five, six. That’s the difference.”
Lonna Heath led Fairlawn with 11 points and had six steals. Heath, a sophomore guard, averaged eight points per game last season has developed into the team’s go-to scorer this season.
“She can have games where she’ll have 30 and games where she’ll have six or eight,” Cathcart said. “She’s still learning, and she’s had to go against a lot of good defenses like Loramie and Anna, and Russia tonight. It’s a brutal stretch.”
Senior forward MaCalla Huelskamp scored eight points and had a team-high eight rebounds.
“She’s playing her butt off,” Cathcart said. “She’s probably the most improved, along with (junior forward) Ashley Roush.”
Huelskamp scored a basket late in the first to give Fairlawn a 10-9 lead but Sherman made a basket and hit two free throws in the final 67 seconds of the quarter to give the Raiders a 13-10 lead.
Heath made a pair of free throws to put the Jets ahead 17-15 midway through the second but Russia scored the next five points and never trailed again.
The Raiders could have pulled away earlier but couldn’t hit free throws in the first half. They finished 5 for 14 (35 percent) from the line, including 3 for 10 in the first half.
“Free throws are definitely something we have to pick up,” Timmerman said. “We’ve been struggling with them the last few games. We were all right early, but not in these last few games. We’ll definitely concentrate on that and work on improving that.”
Russia shot 20 for 47 (42 percent) from the floor and outrebounded Fairlawn 35-26. The Jets shot 10 for 40 from the floor.
Fairlawn will try to get its first league victory of the season on Saturday when it travels to winless Houston.