SIDNEY — Russia and Botkins’ Division IV district semifinal on Monday came down to the last seconds, similarly to the squads’ two Shelby County Athletic League matchups in regular season.
The Raiders pulled out Monday’s matchup at the free-throw line to earn their third district final berth in five years.
Russia sophomore forward Sophie Francis hit three late free throws to lift the squad to a 45-44 victory at Sidney High School. The win advances the team to a Div. IV district final against Tri-Village on Saturday at Troy High School’s Trojan Activities Center.
Francis split a pair of free throws with 26.3 seconds left to put the squad ahead by one point. She had just made two foul shots with about 48 seconds left to tie it 44-44 after she was fouled while shooting underneath the basket.
“She came in clutch, that’s for sure,” Russia coach Andy Timmerman said. “I know free throws have gotten a lot better for us the last couple of weeks, just like our game overall has gotten better the last several weeks.
“That takes a lot of guts and a lot of confidence, and she has it. That’s one thing she’s shown throughout the year, that she’s gotten more confident on both ends of the floor, shooting and defense. A lot of credit to her for knocking down those shots, because those are some pretty tough ones to make.”
Botkins’ possession after Francis’ decisive free throw ended when the squad was called for a five-second violation with 13.9 seconds left. The Trojans were still was able to get off a last-second shot.
Russia (16-9) worked the ball passed midcourt but Botkins junior guard Boston Paul intercepted a pass with less than five seconds left, drove down the sideline and fired a desperation heave that bounced off the side of the backboard. She grabbed the rebound as time expired.
“We did a good job (after the turnover) on defense of getting a hand in their face and not fouling at the end,” Timmerman said. “We’ve got to be smart with the ball and take care of it. Needed to do that there and hopefully knock down a couple more free throws, but that’s the way it goes in games like that. Third time this year; it was going to come down to the wire.”
The squads tied for third in SCAL play in regular season and split their 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.
“Our girls fought, just like all year long. They play from the tip to the final horn,” Botkins coach Phil Groves said. “I couldn’t be more proud of their effort and what they’ve accomplished this year.
“… There were just a couple of possessions there where we needed to get a stop or a timely rebound, and we couldn’t do it. They made their free throws down the stretch; they’re a good team.”
Russia led for most of the game. The Raiders had a 12-11 lead at the end of the first quarter and trailed briefly in the second before rallying to take a 26-23 halftime lead.
The Raiders scored first six points of the third quarter, with the last two coming on a layup by Kate Sherman with five minutes left to push the lead to 32-23.
The Trojans dominated the rest of the quarter. They finished with a 12-0 run, which Makenna Maurer capped off with a 3-pointer from the left wing with just under a minute left to give the squad a 35-32 lead.
“We knew it was going to be a game of runs,” Timmerman said. “We knew we just had to limit their runs, and I thought we did a good job responding. We had some runs too, and we didn’t let it affect us either way, getting too high when we had runs or getting too low when they did.”
Reese Goubeaux hit a 3 early in the fourth and Ashley Scott followed soon after with a pair of free throws to put the Raiders ahead 37-35.
Botkins fought back. After the squad tied it 42-42, Camdyn Paul made a layup shortly after making a steal with about a minute left to put the squad ahead by two points.
Francis’ free-throws in the final minute made the difference.
Sherman, a sophomore forward, led Russia with 13 points while Scott finished with 10. Junior forward Ella Hoehne added six points.
The squad will now try to knock off the Patriots, which were ranked No. 6 in the final Associated Press state D-IV poll. Tri-Village beat the Raiders 62-45 in a nonconference game on Dec. 21 in Russia.
“They’ve got a hell of a team, that’s for sure,” Timmerman said. “They’ve got shooters, they’ve got (Megan) Downing and (Morgan) Hunt inside. They’re very, very strong across the board. It’s going to be a tough matchup for us, but we’ll do what we can to prepare, and I’m excited for the rematch.”
Junior guard Carmen Heuker led the Trojans with 16 points. Paul scored 14, Boston Paul added eight and Maurer finished with six.
The Trojans finish 17-7 overall. Their win total was the program’s highest in 20 years.
Botkins will lose three seniors to graduation in Maurer, Madison Wendel and Jill Greve.
“I want to thank them for their four years of dedication and leadership in the program,” Groves said. “All three of them have helped our program grow tremendously.”
Fort Loramie 72, Jackson Center 12
The Redskins (24-1) capped the second D-IV district semifinal on Monday in Sidney with their third consecutive lopsided tournament win. They’ll face Cincinnati Country Day in a district final on Saturday in Troy.
The Redskins scored the game’s first 39 points and led 43-5 at halftime. They opened tournament play with a 74-7 win over Mississinawa Valley and followed with a 91-18 win over Ansonia.
“I can’t say enough about our seniors,” Fort Loramie coach Carla Siegel said. “I have five seniors starting, and it’s been a long time since I’ve said that. I think they’re setting the tone offensive and defensively, and when people come off the bench and rotate in, they just try to keep that momentum going.”
Senior forward Dana Rose led the squad with 15 points while senior guard Corynn Heitkamp added 14 and senior forward Kenzie Hoelscher scored 13. Rose had four blocks, Heitkamp had three steals and Hoelscher had three assists. Junior guard Colleen Brandewie added nine points and three steals.
Siegel credited Rose and Hoelscher for leading the team through the first three tournament games. Rose was named the SCAL player of the year last year while Hoelscher was named the player of the year this season.
“They’re just clicking at the right time,” Siegel said. “They’re looking for each other on the floor. …I don’t think we’ve seen the best of them yet. I think there’s still more there.
“This is a fun group. They’re laughing on the floor, they’re pointing to each other and helping each other and supporting each other. It’s great team chemistry.”
Country Day (16-1) blew out its first three tournament opponents to advance to Saturday’s matchup. The squad gave Fort Loramie its closest game of the season last year in a regional final, which the Redskins won 50-34.
Country Day’s top two scorers from last season in Kamryn Jordan (14.1 points per game) and Sabrina DelBello (12.5) return. Newcomer Grace Barnes averages 11.5 points per game.
“It’ll be a very tough game, but I think these girls are ready for the challenge,” Siegel said.
Jackson Center finishes 5-18 overall. The squad will lose three seniors to graduation in Ashley Mullenhour, Katie Clark and Marion Shaffer.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.