SIDNEY — Russia and Botkins played in two defensive battles in regular season in Shelby County Athletic League play, but in Saturday’s Division IV sectional semifinal, both teams brought even more pressure than normal — enough to draw blood.
The more experienced Raiders were able to deal with the pressure — and blood — and pulled away in the second half to earn a 33-21 victory at Sidney High School.
Russia, the sectional’s No. 3 seed, advances to face No. 2 Xenia Legacy Christian in a sectional final at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Sidney. Legacy Christian beat Riverside 52-37 in Saturday’s last sectional semifinal.
Russia senior forward Laurissa Poling sustained a big gash on her right cheek during Saturday’s win. But after getting some tape slapped on it by a trainer, she played through the injury and led all scorers with nine points.
It’s the kind of tough performance Poling and senior guard Jenna Cordonnier have given time and again in recent tournament runs. Russia advanced to a district final last year and advanced to regionals the year before. Poling and Cordonnier were key players on both teams.
“This game was rough, but we just tried to push through it,” Cordonnier said after Saturday’s win.
Russia (15-9) pushed through it by repeatedly stealing the ball and rebounding well on the defensive end. The Trojans struggled shooting and were often limited to one-shot possessions, as Poling, Cordonnier and several Russia players were able to control the paint.
“We really just picked up the pressure, especially in the second half,” Cordonnier said. “… It was extremely important (to rebound on defense), because they have a couple of girls that can go back up strong. We had to get the rebound on the first try.”
Cordonnier and Poling are the team’s only players who saw significant playing time last year. The two have received more defensive attention from opponents this season — especially Cordonnier, who took over at point guard in place of graduated Whitney Pleiman.
“I haven’t played point guard since junior high, so that is a new role for me,” Cordonnier said. “Teams have realized that and picked up the pressure on us. We’ve had to work on that.
“This year, we just really have to watch taking care of the ball. We’ve been turning the ball over more than we’d like to, but we’ve been working on that.”
Botkins finished the third quarter on a 7-3 run to pull within 29-16 heading into the fourth, but Russia regained the momentum with two big offensive possessions.
After Sydney Meyer hit a free throw to bring Botkins within 12 points, Russia drained over two minutes off the clock on its first possession of the half, which Poling capped off with a basket off the glass with 5:24 left.
“That was big,” Russia coach Andy Timmerman said. “They were trying to get back in it by shooting 3s, and I think we just kind of got their legs out from under them. We ended up getting a layup out of it, which was great. I tell them to run the offense and run it well and get a good shot, and we did there. I was happy we took care of the ball the whole time there and kept executing. That was a huge part to seal the deal.”
The Raiders also had a possession over 90 seconds long in the last half of the fourth, which Cordonnier capped off with a free throw.
“It’s hard to do anything when they’re working the ball like that,” Botkins coach Phil Groves said. “We were trying to create extra possessions as best as possible. You’ve got to give (Russia) credit. They have a very good team and a very good post player (Poling).”
It was Botkins’ first game since Feb. 12. The No. 7 seed Trojans shot 5 for 27 from the field in the game and 8 for 16 from the free-throw line.
“I think being off for 10 days to two weeks played a little bit of a role, but ultimately, we’ve just got to do a better job trying to score,” Groves said.
Botkins finishes 10-13 overall. The Trojans will lose four seniors to graduation: forward Janell Greve, guard Taira Greve, guard Aliya Jones and forward Grace Homan.
“All of our girls, seniors especially, I appreciate the hard work they’ve put in,” Groves, a first-year coach, said. “They’ve provided good leadership all year, and ultimately, they’ve left a lot for our underclassmen to look up to and look toward the future. I appreciate that.”
The Trojans will return several key players, including freshman guard Carmen Heuker, who was named second team all-SCAL last week. Heuker averaged nine points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.5 steals per game.
“We have some good young players coming in and return about six or seven,” Groves said. “As long as everyone stays healthy, we have bright things ahead in the future.”
Russia, which beat Botkins 46-36 and 45-36 in regular season, led by 11 points at halftime and quickly pulled away in the third quarter.
Poling hit a pair of free throws to open the quarter and give Russia a 19-6 lead, but Boston Paul hit a 3-pointer with 6:58 left to pull Botkins within 10 points.
The Raiders scored the next seven, though. Ashley Scott hit a 3, Katie Hueing hit a basket and Jessica York made a basket to put Russia ahead 26-9 with 4:30 left.
It was a defensive battle from the start. The teams traded points early but Scott completed a three-point play with 1:06 left in the first to give Russia a 7-4 lead.
Heuker split a pair of free throws with 7:47 left in the second to bring Botkins within 7-5, but Poling made a basket soon after to boost the lead to four points.
Neither team scored again until Poling hit a three-point play with 3:54 left to put the Raiders ahead 12-5. Olivia Moorman hit a pair of free throws with 6.5 seconds left to boost the team’s lead to 17-6 at halftime.
“We just defended the ball there early and didn’t give them second-chance points or easy baskets,” Timmerman said. “They had to work for everything that they had. We were very sound defensively from start to finish.”
Scott finished with six points while Cordonnier finished with five. Janell Greve led Botkins with seven while Heuker and Paul each scored six.
The Raiders will now try to advance to their third consecutive district game with a win over Legacy on Wednesday.
“We’ve just got to keep taking care of ball and keep our defense up,” Cordonnier said. “Defense always leads to offense, as Coach (Timmerman) says.”
Fort Loramie 72, Fairlawn 16
Fort Loramie rolled to its second consecutive dominating tournament win on Saturday. Fairlawn scored the first basket of the game to take the lead, but the No. 1 seed Redskins scored the next 30 points and cruised from there in Saturday’s first Div. IV sectional semifinal.
“I asked the girls to be focused on the floor,” Fort Loramie coach Carla Siegel said. “It’s easy to lose your focus in these type of games, but I thought our girls did a good job. Our first five and the first two or three girls off the bench are just clicking so well and doing such a great job. I can’t say enough about the focus and the energy they bring in.”
Fort Loramie (23-1) will face surging No. 4 seed Mechanicsburg in a sectional final at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The Indians (15-8) beat Ansonia 72-36 in Saturday’s first semifinal.
Mechanicsburg started the season 5-5 but has won 10 of its last 13.
“Their point guard, Grace Forrest, is a very good player,” Siegel said. “They’ve got two very good post players too. We definitely have some things we need to prepare for next week for them. They’re a very well-coached team and they’ll get after us, that’s for sure.”
It was another balanced scoring effort for Fort Loramie. Marissa Meiring and Ava Sholtis each scored 12 points while Kennedi Gephart scored 10 and Kenzie Hoelscher added nine. Eight other players scored on Saturday.
“These girls, they don’t care who scores the points,” Siegel said. “As long as someone is getting an open shot, they’re happy. They’re so unselfish and giving. It’s a great trait to have.”
Meiring was named Shelby County Athletic League player of the year earlier this week. Meiring, who’s a 5-foot-8 post player, averages 10.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game while often battling players several inches taller than her.
“She’s our energy giver on the team,” Siegel said. “Every game, she does so much, including defense and rebounding. She just has her nose on the ball. She doesn’t play 24, 25, 26 minutes like a lot of other players do on other teams because we’re so deep and we rotate so often. She’s on the floor minimal, and she does amazing things for the time she’s on there.
“You always hear big-time coaches say, ‘If your best player is your hardest worker, you’ve got a good thing going.’ Marissa Meiring is our hardest worker, hands down.”
Fort Loramie, which was ranked No. 1 in D-IV in the final state Associated Press poll, beat Fairlawn 69-29 and 72-13 in regular-season SCAL matchups.
Saturday’s matchup may have ended with a wider margin if not for the entire second half being played under a running clock, which happens in tournament games when scoring deficits reach 35 points.
Sophomore Ashley Roush scored the game’s first basket with 7:14 left to give the Jets a 2-0 lead, then Fort Loramie took over. Hoelscher made a basket, Meiring scored after a steal, Gephart hit a 3, Hoelscher hit a jumper, Meiring made two free throws and Sholtis made a basket with 5:16 left to push Fort Loramie’s lead to 13-2.
The Redskins’ scoring barrage continued. Roush ended Fairlawn’s scoreless streak with a basket with 6:07 left in the second, at which time Fort Loramie led 30-4.
The Redskins led 43-9 at halftime and 58-15 at the end of the third quarter.
“We knew it would be tough,” Fairlawn coach Gavin Cathcart said. “They beat us like that both times (in regular season). Our big thing was to get a tournament win this year, which we did (by beating Triad 62-43 last Tuesday). Fort Loramie’s one of the best teams in the state in Division IV, maybe Divisions II through IV.”
Fairlawn’s season goes down as a success according to Cathcart, who completed his third year as coach.
The No. 10 Jets finish 8-16 overall, which is their best record since going 11-14 in 2014-15. They were winless in 2016-17 and finished 3-20 last year.
Fairlawn won its first SCAL game since 2016 and its first tournament game since 2015 this season.
Fairlawn will lose senior guard Kennedy Spicer and forward Lauren Dudgeon. Dudgeon was named second team all-SCAL this season after averaging 11.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
“Lauren’s a beast,” Cathcart said. “She started four years on varsity for us and Kennedy came in and was our defensive specialist. They’ll both be successful at life. They’re both smart girls.”
Roush, who led Fairlawn with nine points, looks to be one of several key returnees for Fairlawn. The team also will return freshman guards Lonna Heath and Camri Cundiff among others.
“We’ve got a lot of great players coming back,” Cathcart said. “We’re going to be tough and keep on getting better.”
Xenia Legacy Christian 52, Riverside 37
Riverside played close with Xenia Legacy Christian for much of Saturday’s last sectional semifinal, but poor shooting and 24 turnovers were too much to overcome.
The Pirates pulled within 30-25 with 5:16 left in the third quarter but didn’t score a basket for nearly the next eight minutes. Legacy Christian rattled off 13 unanswered points during that time and cruised to set up a sectional final on Wednesday against Russia.
The No. 8 seed Pirates committed 24 turnovers and shot about 30 percent from the field.
Dana Jones led the Pirates with 16 points while Courtnie Smith scored 10.
“They played good defense, but offense has been our issue all year,” Riverside coach Bryce Hodge said. “We’ll have one scorer, like Dana today, and not have enough contributors. We’ve got to find enough people to contribute offensively next year.”
Jones made a 3 to put Riverside up 5-2 early but the Knights grabbed a 15-9 lead by the end of the first quarter. They led 26-15 at halftime, but Riverside made a run at the beginning of the third.
Jones made two 3s to open the quarter and bring Riverside within 30-25 with 5:16 left. The Knights then went on their 13-0 run. The Pirates didn’t score again until Jones made a basket with 5:33 left in the fourth.
Kathleen Ahner led the Knights with 19 points while Emily Riddle scored 16.
“They could shoot,” Hodge said. “We knew they could shoot really well. We just didn’t do a good enough job today. They shot the ball really well.”
Riverside finishes 12-11 overall. It’s the program’s first winning season in nine years.
The Pirates will lose five seniors, including guards Dana Jones, Shelby Giles and Courtnie Smith and forward Kalin Kreglow.
“This senior class won three games their freshman year, sophomore year they won five games, and last year they got to 10,” Hodge, a first-year coach, said. “The progress they’ve made this year is great. I’m proud of them for that. It’s a good foundation for our underclassmen to build on.
“They’re the best; I love them. First year as a coach, they are the best seniors I could ask for. …They’re just great kids. That’s the best part. They’re all going to be successful in life. This is just a game. We have great kids, and I love them to death.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.