JACKSON CENTER — Inconsistent defensive play has plagued Russia’s girls basketball team and made the squad have to rally often.
The Raiders had the same problem in a Shelby County Athletic League game against last-place Jackson Center. But they picked up the pressure in the second half and ran away to a 52-37 victory to earn their sixth win in seven games.
“We’ve got to play as a team,” Russia coach Andy Timmerman said. “A lot of times we’ve got two or three girls doing the job but not everyone. We come out some nights and for a quarter or two don’t play as a team. That’s hurt us, especially on the defensive end.”
Jackson Center (1-13, 0-7 SCAL) jumped out to a 10-4 early lead but the Raiders went on an 11-4 to take a 15-14 lead early in the second. The Tigers stayed close, though, and trailed 25-23 at halftime.
Though Russia pulled away quickly in the second half, Jackson Center coach Jeff Reese said the first half was a step in the right direction.
“The energy that the girls brought tonight was great and not something that I think has been there on a consistent level,” Reese said. “I felt like our girls played with a lot of energy and came out with a lot of fire that has been lacking at times. I was pleased with how they came out and how they maintained. Russia’s good and has some good ball players and was able to break it open a little, but our girls continued to battle.”
Senior forward Laurissa Poling led the Raiders with 21 points while senior guard Jenna Cordonnier added 15.
The win was sixth in the last seven games for Russia (9-3, 5-2) — though most have been relatively close contests against teams with far worse records.
“We definitely have good quarters and have had a lot of games with really good three quarters, but we just seem to not be able to put a game together,” Timmerman said. “When we do — and we’ve had one this year, against Marion Local — we can be pretty special. Other than that game, not everybody has been playing as a team, and that starts on the defensive end. We’ve had success in the past with that, and if we’re going to this year, it’s got to start with that.
“… We are getting wins, and that is goal. We are playing a little bit better than we were at the beginning of the season, and hopefully we’ll take another stride forward towards the end of the year and tournament time.”
The Raiders pulled away quickly in the third. Cordonnier hit four free throws and Jessica York made a basket over a 90-second stretch to put Russia ahead 33-25.
After Kylie Hartle made a basket for Jackson Center with 3:45 left, Poling split a pair of free throws and Cordonnier made a 3 with 2:07 left to push the lead to 37-27. Russia led by double digits the rest of the way.
“(Jackson Center) did knock down some shots to stay with us, so tip of the hat to them,” Timmerman said. “We came out in that second half and really started to execute, and it was a good way to end the game.”
Ashley Mullenhour hit consecutive baskets to give the Tigers a 10-4 lead with 3:57 left in the first, but Russia scored eight of the next 11. Mullenhour made 1-of-2 foul shot attempts to boost the Tigers’ lead to 14-12 at the end of the first quarter, but Russia’s run continued into the second.
Cordonnier hit a 3 from the top of the key to open the half, then Katelyn Monnin followed with a 3 with 5:59 left to boost the lead to 18-14. Mullenhour made a 3 and Hartle made a free throw to tie it up two minutes later.
Mullenhour made a 3 from the left wing to put the Tigers up 23-22 with 1:57 left, but Olivia Moorman made a 3 with 1:30 left to put the Raiders ahead by two points at halftime.
“Obviously, losing isn’t acceptable and what we want, but you’ve got to be proud of the effort,” Reese said. “… We’ve got very little varsity experience out there, and some total lack of basketball experience to be honest. But we want to get better each day and there’s been some road bumps and some discussions, but effort is one thing you can’t teach. As long as they continue to bring effort, I think good things are in store.”
Kessler — who signed with Missouri-St. Louis for volleyball last November — is in her first season playing prep basketball. She’s a 6-foot-0 forward and scored a team-high 12 points for the Tigers.
“Raquel has been a huge addition,” Reese said. “You can’t teach 6-0, but she also brings a great energy to the game. She plays hard, and she’s a great athlete. …It’s been a huge asset to have her be a physical leader on the court.”
Mullenhour added 11 points for Jackson Center while Hartle finished with 10. Reese was pleased with their output, especially since the team is playing without leading scorer Katie Sosby at the moment due to an injury.
“Kylie has been playing hard for several games for us and goes out there and gives it her all,” Reese said. “Caroline (Frieders) absolutely gives everything she has, and Ashley did some great things tonight and showed some real mental toughness in some situations that would be easy to fold on with some turnovers or other things. But she fought through it and would play hard on the defensive end or come down the next offensive possession and do something really good.”
Russia will play next on Tuesday at Covington while Jackson Center’s next game is on Saturday at Lehman Catholic.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.