In Feb. 24 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Editor
With the game tied at 24 at halftime, the Russell County Lady Lakers (18-7) wondered how they were going to stop Cumberland County's hot shooting Eliza Smith, who hit five three-point baskets in the first half, during the opening round of the 16th district basketball tournament at Metcalfe County High School Monday night.
As the second half began, though, the Lady Lakers came out with a renewed vigor and held Smith scoreless in the second half.
Sophomore LeeAnn Grider, who had just four points at halftime, finished with 23 points after exploding for 19 points in the second half and leading Russell County to the 53-36 victory. The Lady Lakers outscored the Lady Panthers 17-10 in the third quarter and 12-2 in the final quarter to pull away from the pesky Cumberland County squad. Russell County finished the game shooting 45 percent from the field.
"Coming into the game, we knew that Cumberland County was very capable of shooting the ball well from the outside," Lady Laker coach Craig Pippen said following the victory that propelled his team to Thursday night's district title game against either Clinton County or Metcalfe County. "They came out on fire from the perimeter scoring 21 to 24 points from treyville."
Cumberland County shot just 29 percent from the game but did hit six three-point baskets as a team in the first half to keep their season hopes alive.
"I felt like we had to make some adjustments in two areas at half time," Pippen said. "Ball pressure and take Smith out of the game."
Pippen said Grider did a superb job pressuring their point guard into several turnovers to start the second half and finished the game with a game-high three steals.
"LeeAnn is capable of being just as strong on defense as she is on offense," Pippen added. "Regan Helm also shut down Smith and she was held scoreless for the entire second half. Regan is all about heart. She values each possession like it's her last."
He said defense proved again to be the difference between playing cards or playing hoops for another week.
The Lady Lakers finished with seven team steals and outrebounded the Lady Panthers by nine, 29-20.
"Blair Hoover played another outstanding game for us as well," he said. "She made some great passes and more importantly, stepped up and led us in rebounding with nine. That is what we really need from Blair. She can do so many more things than shoot the three."
Pippen said he felt like Lindsay Ramage and Julie Wethington played well, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Both Helm and Ramage finished with nine points each while Hoover tallied six points. Wethington, Madison Loy and Tyla Bailey each also finished with two points in the victory.
Eliza Smith led the Lady Panthers with 15 points, all in the first half, while Taylor Watson finished with 14 points in her final high school basketball game.
"Our bench was solid when called upon and now we have to prepare for a chance to win a championship," Pippen said. "I am very proud of the progress our program has made in just four short years. Our players are the reason."
The Lady Lakers will now look to repeat as 16th district champions when they will face the Clinton-Metcalfe winner from Tuesday night on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Metcalfe County High School in Edmonton. The Lady Lakers won last season's district title game over Clinton County, 55-41. Before last season, the last district title for the Lady Lakers was in 1993.
Monday night's win also sends Russell County to the 4th region tournament next week at E.A. Diddle Arena on the campus of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green whether they win or lose Thursday night.
Last Friday, the Lady Lakers defeated visiting Allen County-Scottsville 57-45 on Senior Night as Ramage, Hoover and Bailey played their final home game. Hoover led the Lakers with 14 points while LeeAnn Grider finished with 13 points.