RUSSIA — Whitney Pleiman was out of breath when she emerged from a scrum with Anna players in the second half of a Shelby County Athletic League game on Saturday at Clair C. Naveau Gymnasium.
Pleiman, a senior guard, drove down the length of the court but was caught by two Anna defenders and lost control of the ball. The three players fought on the floor for possession before a jump ball was called.
After Pleiman stood up and caught her breath, she walked over to an official and asked, “How is that not a foul? I keep getting hit out there.”
Though no foul was called on that play, plenty were late in the fourth quarter, and Russia took advantage at the free-throw line.
The Raiders made 13-of-14 free-throw attempts in the fourth and fought off an Anna rally to earn a 48-46 win and stay atop the SCAL standings with Fort Loramie.
“We work on those a lot,” Russia coach Andy Timmerman said of the late foul shots. “It’s good that they didn’t tire at the end and knocked them down. It’s kudos to them for taking a deep breath, knocking them down and sealing the game for us.”
It was physical throughout, and players ended up on the floor seemingly once per minute fighting for a ball. Anna had 10 fouls in the second half, many of which came while Russia was shooting. The Raiders committed eight fouls in the half, but Anna went to the line just six times in the fourth quarter.
“When you’re down and they’ve got girls that can step up late in the game and knock down shots like that, it makes it tough to get back into things,” Anna coach Jeff Maurer said. “They really knocked down those free throws well down the stretch.”
Emily Aufderhaar hit a basket with 5:40 left in the fourth to give the Rockets a 36-35 lead. Macey Huelskamp followed with a bucket to boost the lead to three points, but Russia quickly retook the lead from the foul line.
Cameo Wilson hit a pair of free throws to cut Anna’s lead to two points, then Pleiman hit a pair to give Russia a 39-38 lead with 3:10 left.
Laurissa Polling was fouled on a shot in the paint with 2:08 left and made a pair of foul shots to boost the Raiders’ lead to three points.
Anna pulled within two points with less than a minute left after Breah Kuck hit a 3-pointer and two foul shots in a 30-second span.
Wilson knocked down two free throws with 21 seconds left to put Russia up 47-43, then Shea Borchers added another with seven seconds left.
Kuck hit a 3 at the buzzer to narrow the final gap to two points.
Wilson led Russia (7-0, 3-0 SCAL) with 16 points, including eight free throws. She made all six of her free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter.
Wilson suffered an ankle injury in Russia’s regional semifinal volleyball game in early November, and Timmerman said she’s beginning to feel fully healed.
“She’s getting more and more comfortable,” Timmerman said. “That’s really showing in the games. She’s being more aggressive offensively and is knocking down some shots for us.”
As good as the Raiders were at the free-throw line, they were as bad on defense at getting rebounds. Anna was able to utilize second-chance shots throughout the game and stay close.
Russia tightened on defense in the fourth quarter, though, and rebounded better.
“The first three quarters, defensively, we weren’t very sound,” Timmerman said. “In the fourth quarter, we were really better at rebounding, better at being in our gaps and better overall at communicating. So that was good, especially finishing with the rebounding.”
The game was the first of a big stretch for the undefeated Raiders, who are tied with Fort Loramie for first place in the SCAL. Russia plays at Botkins (5-2, 2-2 SCAL) on Thursday and hosts Versailles (8-1) in a nonconference game next Saturday.
“It’s good we finished this out,” Timmerman said. “We’ve got to keep working and get better here before these next few games.”
The Raiders scored the last two baskets of the first quarter to take a 15-7 lead, but Anna quickly stormed back in the second.
After Russia went up by 10 points early in the second, Kuck hit a 3 with 3:30 left to pull the Rockets within 19-17, and Abby Gaydosh hit a long jumper from the left side with 1:50 left to give Anna a 21-20 lead. Macey Huelskamp added a basket before the buzzer to give Anna a three-point halftime lead.
Russia started the third on an 8-0 run. Jenna Cordonnier hit a 3 to start it, and Wilson capped it off with a shot in the paint with 4:09 left. Wilson also added a basket with 1:09 left, which gave the Raiders a 33-30 lead heading into the fourth.
After Poling hit a shot early in the fourth to boost Russia’s lead to 35-32, Anna scored the next six points.
Maurer said he was pleased to see Anna battle back and take the lead in the fourth.
“Early in the season when times got tough, we kind of just folded a little bit,” Maurer said. “We’re kind of growing up a little bit and realizing that we’re going to have moments of adversity throughout the game. We just need to push through those moments and keep working.”
After Anna went ahead 38-35, Russia finished on a 13-8 run. All of the Raiders’ points during the run came from the free-throw line.
“This will be on my mind for a while,” Maurer said. “But that’s a very good basketball team, a well-coached basketball team. I have a lot of respect for what they did. They made an adjustment there in that second half on their part going to a zone, and we struggled to get anything going against it. I really felt like that was one of the big differences in the game.”
Cordonnier added 13 points for Russia, while Pleiman and Poling finished with eight each. Russia made 18-of-20 foul shot attempts in the game.
Kuck led Anna with 16 points, and Huelskamp finished with 11.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak by the Rockets (4-3, 2-2). Anna returns to action on Thursday at New Knoxville.
“We’ll build from this, see what we need to work on and get back to work,” Maurer said.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.