RUSSIA — It was a tough opening weekend for Russia’s youthful boys basketball team, but coach Dave Borchers was proud of the way the team finished.
And if the Raiders can start better, Borchers believes a competitive season is in store.
Russia, which has just two returning letterwinners from last season, fell to 0-2 with a 47-38 loss to St. Henry on Saturday at Clair C. Naveau Gymnasium. The loss came a day after the squad opened with a 63-44 loss to rival Fort Loramie.
“From where we started four weeks to where we are tonight — not last night, to where we are tonight — what a difference,” Borchers said. “Some good things are going to happen for us if we keep improving.”
The Raiders gave up the first 11 points against Fort Loramie on Friday and followed by giving up the first seven points against St. Henry on Saturday. Borchers was more happy with how the team played late in both games, especially against St. Henry.
“We’re just trying to get better,” Borchers said. “Last night, I thought defensively we were not very good. We gave up open drives; our help side wasn’t good. This morning’s practice — we called it a shoot-around, but it was more of a shell-around; we worked on shell defense.
“… We cleaned up (our defense) quite a bit tonight. We didn’t lack fight and we tried to do the right things. I was pleased with how well we played with how it went Friday night.”
The Raiders finished 7-16 overall last year and in sixth place in the Shelby County Athletic League. The squad lost eight seniors to graduation, including guard Mason Dapore, who was a second team all-SCAL selection after averaging 15.6 points per game.
Russia will be looking to a group of mostly new varsity players this year for improvement. The squad’s lone returning letterwinners are sophomore forward Xavier Philpot and sophomore guard Zane Shappie. Senior guard Nicholas Caldwell saw some playing time, as did a few others off the bench.
“Almost everyone we’ve got was playing eighth grade or JV ball last year,” Borchers said. “Not much varsity experience. …We’re just trying to get better, and I thought we got better today.
“They saw how much fun it is to play in a game that means something last night. It got out of hand a little bit, and those aren’t any fun. We had fun making a good team earn a win tonight.”
Shappie, Caldwell and Philpot all started on Saturday, as did senior guard Jonathan Bell, who saw a little playing time last year. Freshman guard Hayden Quinter rounded out the team’s starting lineup and led the squad with 11 points, seven of which came in the second quarter.
“He’s got that capability,” Borchers said. “He’s done that in our scrimmages, so it’s not a surprise to me. Even though he’s a freshman, we look at him as one of our scorers and go-to guys. He’s okay with that role, and I think he’s confident enough to take on that role. We’re working more on the other side of the ball with Hayden, and his defense is coming along.”
Shappie and Philpot each scored seven points. Borchers was pleased with both and praised Shappie’s defensive performance.
“I like how Zane thinks a step ahead,” Borchers said. “In the help spot, he’s ready to make the steal on somebody else’s man because he sees what’s happening. He thinks through real well, and he’s a high-energy guy, and I think that helps keep everybody else going.”
The Raiders finished the first quarter on a 10-4 run to pull within 14-10 of St. Henry. Quinter then hit a 3 at the second-quarter buzzer to cap off a 9-8 scoring advantage that cut the gap to 22-19 at halftime.
“The (slow starts are) a bit of a concern,” Borchers said. “I don’t want to use youth as an excuse. We just weren’t ready to play last night. …We’ve got to be ready to play, and that’s one me. These guys are kids, young kids, and it’s on me to have them prepared for this.
“… But I give the kids credit. They fought like crazy and tried to dig out of that hole. There’s fight in them, and I love it. It’s fun coaching when a team gives an effort like that.”
The Redskins put away the game with a 12-6 scoring edge in the third quarter. Each squad scored 13 points in the fourth.
“Some shots didn’t fall for us tonight, but I think we’re going to get some shots to fall and we can clean up the turnovers,” Borchers said.
Junior guard Jordan Meyer, who also played off the bench last year, added six points for the Raiders while sophomore forward Ben Bohman scored five. Logan Lefeld led St. Henry with 13 points.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.