DAYTON — Russia’s task in a Division IV state semifinal was a tough one: defending state champion Richmond Heights.
But in a season that was defined by a tougher task, Russia again showed its resiliency.
The Raiders played close for most of the first three quarters but couldn’t keep up late and saw their season come to an end with a 66-51 loss on Friday at University of Dayton Arena.
Russia may not have been able to earn a trophy, but it gave the Spartans by far their closest game of the year against a Division IV opponent. Richmond Heights won all its other tournament games by at least 20 points and went on to blast Convoy Crestview 70-26 in the Div. IV state final on Sunday to cap off a 29-0 campaign and earn its second consecutive D-IV title.
The Raiders were expecting big things this year with most of its roster back from a 15-win season last season.
But about two weeks before practice was set to start in October, head coach Dave Borchers died as a result of a car accident.
It was a devastating loss for the community. In the days and weeks following the death, Russia’s players made it a mission to honor Borchers on the court this season.
“Not having Dave was a big factor on us,” Russia junior guard Brayden Monnin said. “We just needed to push through it, get through the adversity, and just be dogs.
“He wanted us to be dogs. He was talking to Coach (Spencer) Cordonnier before the season, before it happened. He knew we were going to have this type of season, and he wanted us to be dogs. Just play 100 percent all the time; 110 percent, actually.”
Cordonnier, who was the program’s head coach from 2015 to 2018 and took over on an interim basis following Borchers’ death, said the community rallied around the team.
“Our community is a pretty special community,” Cordonnier said. “They’ve shown an immense amount of support to us this entire year. Filled gymnasiums for four and a half months. Showing for the Borchers (family), helping them in anyway. It’s just a special place.”
Many of the squad’s players also play for the school’s baseball team, which won the 2022 D-IV state title.
June is typically a busy month for summer basketball workouts. But with the baseball team’s success, the basketball team didn’t do much last summer.
It didn’t take much in June, though, for Borchers and Cordonnier to think the group could earn a state berth on the hardwood as well.
“We only had one scrimmage, but we knew after four quarters of that one scrimmage, what we had,” Cordonnier said. “We knew what they needed to do, and they figured it out very, very quickly. They just became that dog mentality.
“They showed a lot of fight and a lot of grit throughout a very, very emotional season. I told my wife, I don’t want it to end tonight, but I’m ready … to be not talking about the accident after every single game. Like we’ve said many times before, we’d have went 0-23 this year if it meant having our friend back.
“But we had a vision this year to get to the regional, and see what happens from there. And here we are.”
Russia scored the first basket of the second quarter to take a 15-8 lead. The Raiders led 25-19 before the Spartans scored eight points in the last two minutes to take a two-point halftime lead.
The teams traded baskets for most the third quarter. Russia junior guard Hayden Quinter made a layup with 1:39 left in the third to give Russia a 37-35 lead.
“We knew they were going to be a resilient team,” Richmond Heights coach Quentin Rogers said. “… I warned (our players) that when you play teams that are playing for something a little bit bigger than a championship, you’re going to get triple the impact you would from a regular tournament game. I think that’s what you saw (in the first three quarters).”
Richmond Heights scored five points in the last 30 seconds of the third to take a three-point lead, then outscored the Raiders 25-13 in the fourth.
“We knew we could play with them coming in,” Quinter said. “Everybody in the community believed in us. The defense we play, we knew we could handle anybody in the state. We just had to get out there, play like dogs. We did. They hit some late 3s that were big, and we just couldn’t come back from that.”
Monnin led the Raiders with 20 points and brought down four rebounds. Quinter scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds and five assists.
Russia finishes 25-4 overall. The Raiders will lose four seniors to graduation: Zane Shappie, Xavier Phlipot, Ross Fiessinger and Colby Monnin.
“I just told those guys they’re fantastic,” Cordonnier said. “They bought into the dog mentality and they were leaders of it and they took us through the season. They kept things together for the entire team throughout the season. They were emotional leaders, just as they were vocal leaders.”
The Raiders are set to return most of their roster, including Quinter and Monnin.
Cordonnier said he would like to return as the squad’s coach.
“(Assistant coach (Brad) Francis told me about two months ago, ‘I did commit to you for this year, and I don’t know what I’m going to do next year,’” Cordonnier said. “About a day later, I pinned him in the equipment room, and said, ‘We’re going to be really good the next two years. Let’s ride this thing out into the sunset.’ I’m going to do this, if they’ll have me, for the next two years, then I’m sailing off into the sunset as well.”
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.