In March 4 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Sports Editor
The 21-3 Russell County boy's basketball team claimed its second 16th district championship in three seasons with a 64-61 victory Friday night over the Bulldogs at Clinton County High School. The victory gives 4th region coach of the year Willie Feldhaus his third district title in five seasons as Russell County's coach.
"It was big," Feldhaus said of winning the district championship and going an undefeated 8-0 in 16th district play. "I'm really happy for this group of seniors and all our kids."
Laker senior Zach Carney posted a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds in the win and senior Robbie Bell, a second team all-region performer, tallied 20 points, connecting on all 13 of his free throw attempts for the Lakers. Senior Adam Justice also had a huge game, collecting 14 points in 19 minutes of play for Russell County.
"When you play so well through the regular season you want to go on and finish the deal," he said. "Going into this year I wouldn't have thought there was a chance that any team in our district could run the table on everybody so this it is a credit to our kids for us to be able to do that."
The Lakers, who shot 44 percent on the night, jumped out to a 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter of play only to see the formidable Bulldogs roar back in the second quarter to trail by just one point at halftime.
Bulldog senior sixth man Brandon Durham, who would later foul out of the ballgame, scored all 19 of his points in the second quarter to lead the Bulldog comeback.
Feldhaus then rallied his team at the midway point as Clinton County coach Todd Messer's 17-11 Bulldogs also came back out of the intermission as intense as they have been all season.
The intensity level and the ballgame's physical play resulted in three Bulldogs fouling out down the stretch and allowing the Lakers' senior-laden team to battle with Bulldog youth in the game's final minutes.
"It was very physical," Feldhaus said. "We shot 40 free throws and I think they were all deservedly so. It was a fairly well officiated game but Clinton County does such a good job defensively, they give you nothing easy. It just so happens that we shot over 70 percent from the free throw line and we needed every one of them tonight."
Also scoring for Russell County was senior Lucas Justice with eight points, senior Bryson McFall with six points, senior Kyle Burchett with two points and freshman Tyler Robertson with two points. Clinton County senior Storm Burchett scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the loss.
Feldhaus said he didn't go to the bench as much in the second half, instead opting to keep his seniors in the ballgame when it mattered the most.
"There is a core group of seniors out there that has brought us this far and they needed to determine the final outcome," he said. "Adam and Lucas were both very active in the second half and Zach has a double-double. Robbie has 20 and the ball was in Bryson's hands at all times, he did a great job controlling the tempo of the game."
In the end, the Lakers would cut down the nets in front of a huge Russell County crowd presence and celebrate as the district hardware would come back to Russell County.
"We're 21-3 and it is just hard to express," Feldhaus said of an unbelievable season. After finishing last season 23-7, Feldhaus said he knew going into this season he would have an experienced basketball team.
"But to get to this level, knowing everybody is gunning for us I can't imagine having a year any more enjoyable than this," he said.
Russell County will now play 14th district runner-up Warren Central on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in E.A. Diddle Arena on the campus of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.
The game will be a rematch of last season's opening round region game, a game won by the Lakers 65-57 in what was deemed a monumental upset.
The 19-8 Warren Central Dragons, led by rising juniors George Fant and Jordan Shanklin, fell Saturday, 74-70, to the Bowling Green Purples and region player of the year junior Chane Behanan.
"There won't be a team there, maybe I shouldn't say this, which we can't beat on a given night," he said following the win over the Bulldogs. "I really do think our kids are focused and they know we have to play good against any opponent but just knowing we have a chance against any (region) opponent is a good feeling."