BOTKINS — Botkins’ girls basketball team continued a string of impressive defensive performances on Monday by holding Russia to its lowest scoring total of the season.
The Trojans took a big early lead and pulled away late to a 34-30 victory in a Shelby County Athletic League game. It’s the fifth consecutive win for Botkins (7-2, 4-2 SCAL), which is in contention with Anna (6-3, 4-1) for second place in the league.
Botkins hasn’t allowed more than 51 points in any game this season and has allowed over 30 points in three of its nine games.
“Defensively tonight, we set the tone,” Groves said. “… It was a total team effort. I can’t praise the girls enough. They’ve worked hard this season, and it’s good for them to get some success.”
It’s the third consecutive loss for Russia (5-4, 3-3). Aside from Botkins, the Raiders have been defeated by Anna and Tri-Village (4-2) in their last three games.
The Raiders have had good defensive performances; they’ve given up more than 40 points in just three of their nine games.
But Russia has struggled offensive lately. After averaging 50.6 points in its first six games, the squad has averaged 37.3 in its last three.
“We just turned the ball over too much to be able to keep up with them,” Russia coach Andy Timmerman said. “We didn’t handle their pressure as much as I would have liked. I thought our defense played really, really well again. I feel like night in and night out, our defense is there. It’s solid and locked in. It’s either poor stretches or not taking care of the ball.
“… But we’re improving. We’re getting better. So that’s all I can ask for.”
Russia sophomore forward Simone Puthoff made consecutive baskets to tie the score 25-25 in the middle of the fourth quarter. But Botkins junior guard Boston Paul responded with a pair of free throws and Carmen Heuker hit a 3-pointer shortly after to give the squad a 30-25 lead.
Russia pulled within 32-30 late and had the ball with 51 seconds left. The squad missed a shot after a timeout, and Botkins grabbed the rebound. Jill Greve hit a pair of late free throws to clinch the win.
“I think our girls did a great job of handling their pressure,” Groves said. “I’m pretty sure we forced more turnovers than we made, which is big. Winning the turnover margin is always a positive. We got stops when we needed to late and got big rebounds.
Greve led Botkins with eight points while Paul and Aleah Johnson each scored six and Heuker scored five. Groves credited Madison Wendel, Melanie Maurer and Camdyn Paul for strong defensive performances off the bench.
Cece Borchers, Ashley Scott and Puthoff each finished with six points for Russia.
The Raiders’ guards struggled to get the ball up the court in the first quarter and committed several turnovers. Botkins built a 10-2 lead before Sophie Francis hit a late basket to cut the gap to six heading into the second quarter.
The Raiders scored six of the first eight points of the second to pull within 12-10 and trailed 15-13 at halftime.
“It’s always good to get off on the right foot,” Groves said. “The girls came ready to play. I can’t praise them enough. But props to Russia for fighting back. They’re a really good team, and in addition to a second time around (in SCAL play), I’m sure we’ll see them again come tournament time, too.”
Botkins pushed its lead to 22-17 late in the third before Katelyn Monnin scored a basket for Russia to cut the gap to three points heading into the fourth. The Trojans led 25-21 with 5:30 left before Puthoff hit consecutive baskets in about a minute.
“That’s the fight we have,” Timmerman said. “It’s just the bad stretches offensively or not taking care of the ball that we run into.
“… They took away our first (scoring) option and we didn’t do a good job getting to our second or third option. I think that was the biggest thing.”
Botkins is scheduled to host Parkway on Monday. Russia’s tough stretch of games will resume on Saturday when it travels to Minster.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.