SIDNEY — If Russia and Botkins’ two regular-season Shelby County Athletic League matchups prove to be accurate foresight tools into predicting what will happen when the two squads face off in a Division IV district semifinal on Monday, don’t expect a lot of scoring.
But do expect an intense, down-to-the-wire game.
The Raiders and Trojans will face off for a third time this season in the first of two district semifinals on Monday at Sidney High School. Russia beat Lehman Catholic 61-25 and Botkins beat Houston 39-26 on Wednesday in sectional finals to set up Monday’s rubber match.
The Trojans (17-7) and Raiders (15-9) each tied for third in SCAL play this season by finishing 7-5. The two squads both lost twice to Fort Loramie and Anna and split their head-to-head matchups. Botkins won the first matchup 34-30 on its home court on Dec. 28 while Russia won 34-32 on its home court on Feb. 4.
“It’ll be a tough one. Defensive battle,” Russia coach Andy Timmerman said. “They’re aggressive and they’re going to get after it. They’ve got good shooters on the perimeter. They make it tough.
“Especially playing them a third time, it’s going to be a grind for 32 minutes, if not more than that.”
Russia’s loss to Botkins in December was one of five in a tough stretch that included Anna and state-ranked Div. IV teams Fort Loramie, Minster and Tri-Village. The squad dropped to 5-6 after the losses but has won 10 of its last 13 games, including the two-point victory over the Trojans earlier this month.
The No. 4 seed Raiders struggled offensively in some games in regular-season. They scored 35 points or less five times and averaged 45 points total.
But Timmerman says the squad has shown improvement late in the season — and has learned how to win low-scoring games against tough defensive opponents as well.
“Defensively, we’ve been sound all year, but offensively that’s where we’ve had some problems,” Timmerman said. “I think we’re getting better. We’re getting more girls scoring and they’re getting more confident in their shot. They’re being more aggressive, more physical and that type of stuff.”
Russia started the tournament with a 61-17 win over Riverside on Feb. 11 and had a nearly identical performance in a 36-point win over the Cavaliers on Wednesday.
The squad started slow but built a 6-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, then exploded in the second quarter with a 28-11 scoring edge that pushed its halftime lead to 23 points. The Raiders closed with an 18-8 scoring edge in the third and 9-6 edge in the fourth.
Senior guard Ashley Scott led Russia with 15 points while 6-foot-0 sophomore forward Kate Sherman, who was recently named first team all-SCAL, scored 14. Sophie Francis added nine.
“We’ve been having different people stepping up, just like we have had all year,” Timmerman said. “It’s been good. I feel like our intensity has been pretty good overall and it’s been a good effort with us playing together. I think we’ve done that well the last half of the year, especially the last couple of weeks.”
Senior guard Anna Cianciolo led the Cavaliers with 10 points. Lehman shot 9 for 48 (19 percent) from the floor and committed 19 turnovers.
Lehman finishes 7-14 overall. The squad, which tied for third in its final season in the Northwest Central Conference, will lose four seniors to graduation: Cianciolo, guard Maggie Bezy, forward Emma Kennedy and forward Liann Trahey.
Botkins has advanced to Monday’s semifinal thanks in part to two hot starts. The squad built a big early lead against No. 3 seed Mechanicsburg last Thursday and survived a rally attempt by the Indians to win 53-50 in overtime.
The No. 2 seed Trojans built a 16-6 lead by the end of the first quarter on Wednesday against Houston and followed with an 8-5 scoring edge in the second to take a 24-11 halftime lead. They put the game away with a 10-4 advantage in the third.
Botkins beat Houston by 35 points and eight points in SCAL games in regular season.
“Our girls did a good job of setting the tone defensively early and carried that through the rest of the game,” Botkins coach Phil Groves said. “… We expected to see some 1-3-1 today, which they did some. I thought our girls did a good job of attacking their zone when they ran it.”
Botkins’ 17-win total is the program’s highest since in 20 years. The squad has relied on a balanced scoring effort this season that has been led by junior guard Carmen Heuker, who was recently named first team all-SCAL. Heuker, a 5-foot-6 guard, averages 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
The Trojans’ have benefited from strong defense. They’ve held teams under 35 points 13 times, including both matchups with Russia.
Groves said the squad will need a strong defensive effort again to beat the Raiders on Monday. He said the biggest challenge will be keeping the ball away from Sherman and 5-11 junior forward Ella Hoehne.
“Russia’s a very good team,” Groves said. “… We’ve got to keep the ball out of their bigs’ hands. Their twin towers are tough to defend and tough to handle when they get it going. We’ve got to make sure we come ready to play and that our post players stay in the game and do a great job again on them defensively.”
Timmerman said he knows it’ll be a tough defensive battle again.
“They really get after it defensively and they make it tough for you to run things,” Timmerman said. “They’re going to be well-prepared. Coach Groves does good job with that, knowing what is expected.”
Houston finishes 11-12 overall. The squad was led on Wednesday by junior guard Rylie Voisard, who scored nine points. Senior forward Amber Stangel scored eight.
The Wildcats will lose four players to graduation: Stangel, post Dana Gillem, guard Mariah Booher and post Catryn Mohler.