KETTERING — Russia rallied to beat Jackson Center in its season opener and then won its next nine games. But the Raiders gave up 65 points to the Tigers in a Shelby County Athletic League matchup on Jan. 6 in Jackson Center and lost by 12.
“After that game, we had a team meeting before practice the next day, and the coaches said, ‘That’s not us. That’s not who we’ve been all year, that’s not who we want to be the rest of the year,’” Russia senior guard Zane Shappie said. “From that point on, we’ve made it one of our big priorities. We’ve got to keep people out of the paint.”
Russia did it well on Friday and earned its first state berth since 2002 by beating Jackson Center 27-25 at Trent Arena.
Jackson Center struggled to get into the paint all night. The Tigers shot 8 for 37 (21.6 percent) from the floor, and Russia had a 32-26 rebounding edge. Jackson Center was outrebounded 17-12 in the second half and managed three offensive rebounds in the half.
“As many great players and scorers as they have, that’s what we had to do, keep them out of the paint,” Shappie, who was also a starter for Russia’s 2022 D-IV state champion baseball team, said. “We just tried to carry that through the rest of the year. Giving up 25 points in a regional final, that’s incredible. We only scored 27, and I don’t know if that’s great offense, but we sure had great defense.”
The Raiders (25-3) will face Richmond Heights in a D-IV state semifinal on Friday at University of Dayton Arena. The Spartans won the state title last year and have won 47 consecutive games.
Dave Borchers won’t be far from Russia players’ minds on Friday night. Borchers, who was set to enter his fifth season coaching the program, died as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident last October, just about two weeks before the season began.
“We’ve been here for everybody, and for each other,” junior guard Hayden Quinter said. “We wanted to be here with him, but (after his death), we knew we had to get here without him.”
The team — and the village of Russia as a whole — has set out to “be like Dave.” They will now get the chance to at the state level.
“He had the highest character,” Shappie said. “He would get on us, but he just wanted us to be the best men, best players. He wanted us to have the highest character. That’s just how he was, that’s how he wanted us to be. That’s how he taught us.
“We think of him every day. We think of him every time we go out. We pat (the commemorative patch) on (our) jerseys every time before we run out on the court. I know he’s up there somewhere cheering for us.”
The Borchers’ family will be in the arena, as it has been all year. Borchers’ son Zeb, a junior varsity player for the Raiders, came out of the stands and cut down the net to cap off postgame celebrations on Friday.
A cutout of a headshot of Dave Borchers was placed on top of the rim to watch as players cut individual pieces of the net. Zeb Borchers held the photo of his father as he twirled the net.
“A little signifier of him watching over us,” Shappie said. “He’s what carried us through. He’s what gives us motivation every time out.”
Richmond Heights (27-0) had two key returnees back from last season in sophomores DeErick Barber and Dorian Jones, who both have Division I collegiate offers.
The Spartans have won their five postseason games by an average of 43 points per game.
“We’re going to try to be relentless, be dogs on defense,” Shappie said. “That’s what we’ve tried to do all year.”
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.