RUSSIA — Russia started last season with a 10-point victory over Sidney and went on to win 20 games. The Raiders are hoping a similar result on Friday is a sign another good campaign is underway.
Russia scored the last four points in the first half to take a six-point halftime lead, then quickly pushed the lead to double digits early in the third and cruised from there to a 56-46 victory over the Yellow Jackets at Claire C. Naveau Gymnasium.
Russia has seven returning letterwinners from last season’s 20-6 campaign, including Kate Sherman, who was a first team all-Shelby County Athletic League selection.
Sherman, who is 6-foot-2, is one of five players 5-9 or taller who played for the Raiders on Friday.
Like last season, Sidney struggled with the Raiders’ height advantage; Russia unofficially had a 40-23 rebounding advantage.
“We really wanted to use our posts, and I thought our kids did a nice job of finding our posts and posting it for the most part,” Russia coach Paul Bremigan said. “Roni Poling played really well, and Kate played really well. We got good play off the bench, too.”
Poling, a junior, scored 12 points. Cece Borchers scored 13 points, Sherman scored 10 and Simone Puthoff scored nine. Miah Monnin made a pair of 3-pointers off the bench in the first quarter and finished with six points.
Russia scored the first five points of the game, but Sidney scored the next seven. Monnin’s late 3s gave the Raiders an 11-7 lead heading into the second.
“Everybody went in and did their job,” Bremigan said. “For being the first night, there weren’t a whole lot of first-night jitters for us, or them, really. Usually the first night can be a little rough. But both teams have a lot of experience, and I thought we came out and played like it was a middle-of-the-season game.”
Sidney, which has seven returnees from last year, pulled within 20-18 late in the second. But Poling scored two baskets in the final minute to increase the gap to 24-18 at halftime and quickly pushed the gap to double digits in the third quarter.
“That was big, because we knew they were going to come after us,” Bremigan said.
Jordan Scully hit a 3 at the buzzer to pull Sidney within 37-31 at the end of the third, but the Raiders finished with a 19-15 scoring edge in the fourth to secure the win.
The Raiders made 13-of-18 free-throw attempts in the fourth to seal it.
“That’s a good way to keep a lead,” Bremigan said.
Four of Sidney’s guards are 5-7 or shorter, and Sidney post players Regan Clark (6-1) and Kelis McNeal (5-10) were undersized against Sherman and Poling.
The Yellow Jackets tried to bring pressure with a full-court pressure defense that has flustered many opponents the last four years. It worked at times (Russia finished with 20 turnovers, seven more than Sidney), but the rebounding gap, poor shooting from the field and poor free-throw shooting were too much to overcome.
“The effort was there,” Sidney coach Jamall Foster said. “Our girls were fighting down there in the post for position, but (Russia) is just really big and really physical. It wears on you, and I think we kind of got worn down in the second half.
“But our girls fought. They went after the 50-50 balls and tried to do what they can, but that’s just a bigger team.”
Sidney missed its first six foul shot attempts in the fourth; they made 3-of-10 in the quarter.
Sidney made 9-of-19 free-throw attempts on the night while Russia made 20-of-29.
Most of Russia’s players also participated on the volleyball team and have been practicing only about two weeks. Bremigan said he’s pleased with how the team has come together quickly.
“I thought we played really well defensively the first three quarters,” Bremigan said. “The fourth quarter was a little ragged. …But for the most part, I’m real happy with how we’re playing.”
The Yellow Jackets went on to a 19-6 record after a 66-56 loss to Russia in a season opener last year.
“We wanted to win and start the season off the right way, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Foster said. “We’ll continue to improve. We’ll look at this, we’ll improve in the half court offensively, we’ll improve defensively, we’ll get into our schedule, because it doesn’t get easier.
“We’ll get better. This is a game we wanted, but it’s not going to define our season.”
Allie Stockton and Scully each scored 15 points for Sidney, while Larkyn Vordemark and Clark each scored six.
Russia, which played at Minster on Saturday night, will host Jackson Center in its SCAL opener on Tuesday.
Sidney will open Miami Valley League by traveling to Fairborn on Tuesday.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.