RUSSIA — Russia had a rough start to the season against strong competition but has been rolling lately. The Raiders are hoping to keep rolling in tournament play.
Russia won its sixth consecutive game and eighth in the last nine by beating Botkins 45-33 in a Shelby County Athletic League matchup on Saturday at Clair C. Naveau Gymnasium.
The Raiders (12-8, 8-3 SCAL) lost 46-41 to Findlay Liberty-Benton in the Versailles Tiger Classic on Jan. 15 but have largely rolled since New Year’s Day. Among their victories was a 54-47 win over Anna on Tuesday, which gave them sole control of second place in the SCAL.
“Everybody has gotten better from the first weekend to now,” Russia coach Michael Bashore said. “We’re playing hard. Today, we were missing a starter (Jaela Shappie), and one of our starters was sick and playing through that. We’ve been doing that all year. Different kids have been stepping up. There’s a freshman (Celeste Borchers) whose game has just skyrocketed since Christmas.”
Borchers led the Raiders with 13 points, nine of which came in the first half. She’s one of two freshmen who started, the other being Hazel Francis, who finished with seven.
Borchers scored eight points in Tuesday’s win over Anna. She said the team’s newcomers have become acclimated since the season began two months ago.
“We started off a little rough, but the second half of the season, we’ve been playing better together and moving better,” Borchers said. “… The upperclassmen are really supportive and really help us along, pick us up when we’re down.”
Sophomore Claudia Hoehne added nine points, seven of which were in the second half. Junior guard Addison Shappie added six, as did senior center Roni Poling, who is the team’s leading scorer.
Poling is the team’s lone returnee. Shappie, a varsity newcomer, has been playing well recently according to Bashore; she scored 15 points in a win over Anna on Tuesday. Bashore also said Hoehne has been playing well recently; she scored 14 points on Tuesday.
“Addison and Claudia Hoehne have been playing really well,” Bashore said. “Faith (York) did a nice job today defensively with Jaela (Shappie) being out. She’s one of our better defenders. And we had to play with Hazel (Francis) being in foul trouble.
“For us to win when Roni doesn’t score, missing a starter, and having another starter sick, really says a lot about the growth of our team.”
The Raiders’ early nonconference schedule was loaded with the likes of Sidney, Minster and Covington, all of which the squad lost to. Aside from Anna, it also lost to Fort Loramie and Jackson Center in SCAL play.
Like beating Anna, the Raiders beat Jackson Center in a rematch. They won 56-42 on Jan. 9 to start the current hot streak.
Borchers said the squad is hoping for a tournament run, and Bashore said he’s optimistic. The tournament draw is on Sunday.
“We’re playing well,” Bashore said. “I think we’ll be around for a while as long as we’re playing as we’ve been playing. I’m looking forward to it, and I think the girls are, too.”
Before beginning postseason play, Russia will wrap up regular-season game with one more tough nonconference matchup when it travels to Marion Local (13-6) on Tuesday. The squad will then host the Redskins on Thursday in a regular-season finale.
The Raiders built a 16-5 lead by the end of the first quarter and led 28-17 at halftime. Russia pushed its lead to 35-23 by the end of the third, but the Trojans cut the gap to single digits in the fourth.
“I was happy (the slow start) didn’t affect the way we played,” Botkins coach Tyler Carson said. “We were within 7 and had an offensive foul on a shot on an offensive screen. That’s a tough break for us. It’s part of the game, that happens. I couldn’t be more proud of our effort. We played until the last second and gave ourselves a chance to win.”
Botkins dropped to 9-11 overall and 4-7 in league play with the loss, which broke a four-game winning streak.
“Defensively, we always play hard. I know what we’re going to get,” Carson said. “I think offensively, we’ve kind of settled down and are able to run through our sets. The first time we played them, we scored 21 points.
“… I was happy offensively. We were more patient than we were the (first) game (against Russia). We turned it over 25 times the first time, and I know it wasn’t that high this time. We’re seeing some progression. We’re fairly young. I’m happy with how we progressed throughout the season, and hopefully we can win a couple in the tournament.”
DeeDee Pits led Botkins with 11 points while Jana Metz scored nine and Camdyn Paul scored seven.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.