In March 11 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Sports Editor
The 16th district champion Russell County Lakers' season ended Wednesday night with a 5-point defeat, 50-45, to the 20-8 Warren Central Dragons, runners-up in the 14th district, in the opening round of the 4th region tournament at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.
The game featured two of the 4th region's top teams with no team holding a lead larger than seven points on the night. The game also proved to be the last high school basketball game for Russell County's seven seniors, Robbie Bell, Zach Carney, Bryson McFall, Adam Justice, Lucas Justice, Kyle Burchett and Jordan Best.
“They gave us the same thing they have been giving us for the past four years,” Laker coach Willie Feldhaus, the 4th region's coach of the year, said of his seniors after the ballgame concluded. “They had great effort and gave themselves a chance to win.”
The Laker coach then deservingly continued on about his seven seniors.
“There's not seven seniors anywhere in the United States that have done more for a program over the past four years, I truly do believe that,” he said. “I challenged them as freshmen to continue to get better every single day and I thought we would get to the point where we are and it only happened because of the hard work they did on their games when I wasn't around.”
He continued by saying he wasn't only proud of them for their on-court accomplishments but their classwork in school and work in the community as well.
“They are just seven quality young men,” he said.
The Lakers held a three-point advantage after the first quarter, but the physical Dragons outscored Russell County 18-12 in the second quarter to lead at halftime. In the third quarter, both teams struggled shooting the ball with Warren Central only collecting six points while the Lakers scored just four points.
Both teams tallied 13 fourth quarter points but it proved to be the big second quarter from the Dragons that was the difference.
“I believed and our kids truly believed that if we were in the ballgame in the final three minutes we would have a really good chance to win it,” he said. “The thing that Warren Central did so well, they kept us off the free throw line late in the game.”
He said the Dragons did a good job of contesting all Laker shots down the stretch and not fouling, which is hard to do late in the game.
“We still had a three-point shot to tie the ballgame up with under 15 seconds left so we gave ourselves a chance,” he said of a missed Bell three-point attempt. “I'm sorry for our kids, they just came up just a little bit shy.”
Warren Central shot 55 percent from the field for the game, connecting on 18-33 shots while the Lakers connected on 15-41 shots for 37 percent shooting.
Leading the way for Russell County was Bell with 15 points. Senior Adam Justice scored seven points while senior Lucas Justice and freshman Tyler Robertson scored six each. Senior Zach Carney totaled five points while senior Kyle Burchett finished with four points. Senior Bryson McFall scored two points in the ballgame to round out Russell County's scoring.
Shamarcus Wells led the Dragons with 12 points while George Fant tallied 11 points for Warren Central.
“One thing about high school basketball, there is only one team in the state of Kentucky that doesn't lose their last ballgame and that makes it hard on everyone,” Feldhaus said. “It is never easy to go down in defeat, but to go down to a quality team like Warren Central they can hang their hats on that.”
Looking to next season, Feldhaus acknowledged his team had some large shoes to fill.
“My challenge to all the underclassmen is to get better and there is no reason why Russell County can't be back in Diddle Arena again next year,” he said. “You are going to see a lot of improvement from some of these younger kids ... there is going to be some surprises for people next year.”