In March 12 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Sports Editor
Coach Willie Feldhaus' Laker basketball team upset the top-seeded Warren Central Dragons, 65-57, Saturday night in the opening round of the 4th region tournament at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, one of the biggest wins in the history of Russell County basketball.
The Lakers (23-6) shot 59 percent from the field for the game and a blistering 74 percent in the second half against the 25-5 Dragons and were led in scoring by Bryson McFall with 17 points, who was named the game's most valuable player.
"I'm about halfway numb right now, quite honestly," Feldhaus, the region's coach of the year, said after the game. "I couldn't be more proud of a group of kids."
Warren Central, the perennial 4th region favorite, had captured six straight region titles from 2002-07, and came into the game with two of the state's most highly touted underclassmen in sophomores George Fant and Jordan Shanklin.
A week earlier, Russell County had fallen 67-51 in the 16th district championship game against Cumberland County and had lost three of their last six games.
"In the last month we've had some losses where we felt like we shouldn't have lost," he said. He said his team had recently not been playing like they had early in the year where losses were few and far between.
But on this night Russell County was undeterred at the name on the front of the opposing team's jersey and took it to the favored Dragons from the get-go, jumping out to a 7-0 lead and leading 12-11 after one quarter.
The second quarter saw the Dragons use a 11-0 run to get out to a 26-16 lead over the Lakers with just over three minutes remaining before halftime.
Russell County managed to cut the lead to six at halftime, 29-23, but early in the third quarter, Warren Central would go on the offensive again until a 12-2 Laker run gave the lead back to them at 37-35.
Going into the final frame, Russell County led 44-42 and was poised to hold off the Dragons, who would never again tie or lead.
Russell County used another offensive spurt, this one a 9-0 run, to push the lead out to 11 at 59-48 with just over three minutes remaining in the game.
After a timeout, Warren Central came out and cut the lead to five at 59-54 but the Lakers answered and scored a couple of clutch buckets to push the lead to seven.
Warren Central's Fant then garnered an offensive foul and fouled out with 1:48 to go, helping the Lakers to secure the upset victory.
"I think our kids came out tonight and had something to prove," Feldhaus said. "Our scouting report was to basically get us to the end of the first quarter and still be in the basketball game."
After that point, Feldhaus said his team was prepared to go the rest of the way.
McFall scored 17 points on 6-7 shooting for the Lakers while senior Bryon Ellis, who was just named the region's player of the year a day earlier, scored 16 points.
Junior Robbie Bell, who sliced the Dragon defense for several key buckets down the stretch, finished with 12 points on the night.
"We're not going to overpower people inside, we have to shoot the ball well to win," Feldhaus said. He said the team's return to their old shooting form was much improved over their last several games when they were shooting percentage was in the 30's.
He also said free throw shooting was key to the team, after hitting 12-16 for the game for 75 percent. The Lakers have been one of the top free throw shooting teams in the state all season.
Junior Lucas Justice tallied eight points while junior Zach Carney scored six points. Adam Justice also scored four big points for the Lakers. Laker Tyler Robertson also scored two points in the game.
Feldhaus got some big minutes off the bench from junior Kyle Burchett and sophomore Tra Taylor, who both came into the game with high energy and effort.
Feldhaus said Burchett had his best practice a day earlier and proved he was ready for some game action when Carney got in foul trouble early in the game.
The Laker coach said Taylor, an excellent athlete and one of the top performers in junior varsity action this season, was stunned when when he directed him to go into the game. Taylor would go on to grab a key rebound in his playing time.
Feldhaus again said his team's balanced scoring allowed them to claim the victory and that would be needed as they moved their way through regional action.
The Lakers moved on to face Franklin-Simpson, who defeated Barren County, in Monday night's semifinal in Bowling Green.