In Feb. 25 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Sports Editor
Lady Laker freshman LeeAnn Grider hit an unbelievable buzzer-beating, game-winner in the lane against Metcalfe County Tuesday night to send Russell County to the 16th district championship game on Thursday against the tournament host, Clinton County.
An outlet pass from Lady Laker junior Lindsay Ramage to Grider off of a Metcalfe County Lady Hornet free throw miss with less than five seconds on the clock led to the exhilarating shot, one that gave coach Craig Pippen's team the 40-39 come-from-behind win.
Following the shot, a Laker wave rushed onto the court as players, coaches, parents and fans celebrated the win as the Metcalfe County sideline and crowd stood in silent disbelief.
"I am proud of our girls," said Russell County coach Craig Pippen. "They have a refuse to lose attitude and we never felt like it was over until the final horn."
Pippen said he knew coming into the game that Metcalfe was going to throw a lot of zone defense
at his team.
"We just didn't know what alignment," he said. "Last year they played a 3-2 and this year they played a 2-3 match-up. Our kids did a nice job being patient on offense even when we were seven points down at one point.
He said the Lady Laker game plan was to pound the ball inside and penetrate the gaps of the defense. "Lindsay didn't play one of her better games but made up for it in the final minute with an offensive put-back and a great outlet pass to LeeAnn Grider which led to the game winner," he said. "Our girls hung in there and our coaching staff kept telling them to fight on. I just felt like something special was going to happen going into this game."
Pippen said he was most proud of the fact that seniors Kim Pierce and Rachael Miller get to play in Diddle Arena in the 4th region tournament for the second time in three years.
"The two of them have been through so much and I couldn't be prouder than I am of those two seniors," he said.
Pippen said LeeAnn Grider stepped up big down the stretch for his team.
"She did an excellent job finding seams and attacking the rim," he said. "On the last play, when I saw her crossover on the first defender and go one-on-one, I knew it was going to happen. You just can't afford to guard her one-on-one in transition."
Pippen said he wished he could say, "it was executed just the way I drew it up on the coaches' board."
"However, like they say...sometimes it's not about X's and O's...it about Johnny and Joes and on this particular play it was about Lindsay Ramage and LeeAnn Grider," he said.
A poor shooting performance (24 percent from the field) in the first half of play against the #3 seed Lady Hornets made Russell County have to play catch-up in the second half, seemingly getting no closer than four points for much of the game.
But down the stretch, Metcalfe County missed several crucial free throw attempts that would have sealed the game and allowed the Lady Lakers, who shot 50 percent in the second half, to claw their way back.
Led by Grider's 14 points and a great shooting performance by junior Blair Hoover, who scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds, Russell County was able to stay close.
“I was really proud of the way Blair Hoover responded tonight. She did a better job looking for opportunities to score, grabbed 7 rebounds and is starting to play with more confidence,” he said. “When Blair plays with confidence, she really makes us better.”
Also scoring for Russell County was junior Lindsay Ramage with five points and 10 rebounds, senior Rachael Miller with five points, freshman Julie Wethington with two points and freshman Amanda Cooper with one point. Senior Kim Pierce and freshman Regan Helm played but did not score.
Metcalfe County, 10-13 on the season, hadn't lost since February 5th at Laker Gym. Leading the way for the Lady Hornets was senior Kara Reece with 12 points and freshman Riley Eskridge with 10 points.
The Lady Lakers will face Clinton County on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Clinton County High School for the district title.
"We have our work cut out for us," Pippen said of playing Clinton County.
"We are going to prepare for them and give it our best shot to bring home a district title Thursday night. They are a good team on their home floor and it will be a tough game."
But Pippen said knowing his group, anything is possible.