In March 4 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Sports Editor
The Russell County Lady Lakers, 18-8 overall, won their first district title in 17 seasons Thursday night, defeating the Clinton County Lady Bulldogs 55-41 in the finals of 16th district tournament in Albany. The loss was Clinton County's first district loss of the year.
"The district championship means the world to our coaching staff and players," said Lady Laker coach Craig Pippen. "This goal was set back shortly after we lost in the first round last year. We had a sour taste in our mouths which lasted through the summer and into this season."
Pippen said his players were determined to do something special and something that hadn't been done since 1993, and they succeeded.
"They have a never die attitude and anything is possible with a group who believes in themselves," he said.
Coach Craig Pippen's team shot 47 percent for the game to help them win the crown while holding Clinton County to just 28 percent shooting.
The Lady Bulldogs came out firing first, though, and led at the end of the first quarter, 11-4. Russell County would then go on to outscore Clinton County in the final three quarters, 15-7, 19-9 and 17-14, respectively.
"The first half we came out a little tight which is normal in tournament play," Pippen said. "After one quarter of basketball we calmed down and started playing with more energy and intensity."
Pippen said he team did a nice job getting the ball inside to junior Lindsay Ramage, who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds, her 7th double-double of the season.
"She did an excellent job sealing the post and putting her self in scoring position," he said. "Our guards also did a nice job taking are of the basketball."
Russell County finished the game with 12 turnovers, compared to Clinton's 10.
"That is and area we really worked hard on trying to improve from last year," he said. "Kim Pierce had the toughest defensive assignment in guarding all region player Brittany Flowers. Kim basically shut her down in the 4th quarter and took her out of their offense."
Pippen said Pierce, a senior, was also helped by senior Rachael Miller, freshman Regan Helm and freshman Julie Wethington when she needed a break.
"Blair Hoover played one of her best games this year," he said of his junior forward, who had two points, two assists, three steals and four rebounds. "She played great defense, rebounded the ball and made some nice plays down the stretch. She has really come on in post-season play and has been a big reason to our success."
Freshman LeeAnn Grider, who was voted on by the coaches of the 4th Region as a member of the All-Region 2nd team earlier in the week, also played well, scoring 11 points in the game.
"This is such a great honor especially for a player that still has three seasons ahead of her," Pippen said of the region honor. "LeeAnn is that type of player that not only has a high level of skill, but backs it up with her work ethic, her team attitude and her desire to improve each and everyday."
Pippen said many times his freshman guard has stayed after practice or made time to come into the gym and work on her game.
"She is passionate about the game and it shows through her play," he said.
Both Miller and Pierce scored eight big points each for the Lady Lakers while Wethington finished with seven points, including a big three-point basket late in the game. Heather Owens, the team's manager who Pippen dressed for the district tournament, also played in the game and found her way into the scoring column, banking in two late foul shots that got perhaps the loudest ovation of the night.
"I am especially happy for our two seniors, Kim Pierce and Rachael Miller," Pippen said. "They will remember this for the rest of their lives."
He said outside of his own daughter, Hannah, when it comes to being proud of someone, these two are next in line.
"They are a big part of my family," he said. "I love them dearly."
Pippen said he can't talk about the program's recent success without mentioning his support staff.
"I truly believe if you want to win in life, you must surround yourself with winners," he said. "These are the people who have the ability to rid themselves of negative thoughts and always push for the positive. When they run into what many would call problems, they see them as opportunities to succeed."
He said his assistant coaches, Kelly Kelsey and Tylar Coffey, and youth league coaches play a key element in the success that players and coaches have worked so hard to achieve.
"From a coaching aspect, without them, none of this would have been possible," he said. Kelly and Tylar have done a great job teaching the game, coaching, and more importantly, been great role models for our players."
He said he couldn't be more proud of all the county coaches, from 3rd grade up.
"I am especially thankful of the support given to our program by our high school athletic director, Rita Branscum, our high school principal, Darren Gossage and our superintendent, Scott Pierce," he said. "Having a supportive administration truly makes things go a lot smoother when you are in a leadership position of any kind," Pippen said. "Working here in the basketball program and school system has been a tremendous blessing in itself."
He said he loves the position the Lady Laker basketball program is in right now.
"Our parents are extremely supportive, our players look forward to each and every challenge and our coaching staff is having the time of our lives," he said.
The team will now turn their focus to the 4th region tournament in Bowling Green where they will face 17-11 Logan County Tuesday night at 8 p.m. at Diddle Arena on the campus of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.
"We will take one game at a time," he said. "Our goal is to win the tournament, not just be content in playing in Diddle Arena."