In March 10 Issue
Russell County's season ended at the hands of the Monroe County Falcons Thursday night in the opening round of the 4th region tournament at Western Kentucky University's E.A. Diddle Arena with a final score of 63-55.
The Lakers finished their season 17-12 overall and were champions of the 16th district for the second straight year, finishing the overall district slate with a 7-1 record.
Monroe County shot the ball extremely well, hitting 50 percent of their shots for the game, while the Lakers struggled in the second and third quarters after leading at the end of the first quarter, 14-6.
"We allowed them to shoot over 50 percent from the field and we shot 35 percent and those are hard ballgames to win," said Laker coach Willie Feldhaus following the loss.
"We hit some shots early and we actually did a good job defensively and rebounding."
The Lakers, who officially shot 37 percent from the field, were outscored 21-8 in the second quarter and 15-7 in the third quarter and could not cut it any closer than six points down the stretch.
"We got stagnant on offense and they went into a little zone on us," he said.
"Quite honestly their length caused us a lot of problems. We couldn't get passes to the guys on the inside and they contested all of our shots on the perimeter."
While the Lakers did defeat the Falcons 61-55 back in December, Feldhaus said he saw a different group take the floor at Diddle.
"I think they shot the ball a lot better first of all," he said.
"We had difficulty scoring on them the first time, too. We had 30 points going into the fourth quarter before we pulled it out in the end."
He said this time, though, his team found themselves too far down to come back while the Falcons made the key free throws down the stretch to advance in the region tournament.
"It seemed like one of those games where not a lot went our way," he said.
Foul trouble also limited Laker starters Nick Coffey, Martin Cross and Barton Mann for much of the game with Cross and Coffey fouling out late in the fourth quarter.
Lakers Nick Britt and Hunter Best played big minutes on the perimeter during the game when Feldhaus went small due to the foul trouble and to try and force more backcourt pressure on the Falcons but with 10 more feet to cover on the college floor it was difficult for the Lakers to slow Monroe down.
Monroe County was led in scoring by Tanner Kendall with 21 points.
Caleb Sheffield finished the game with 17 points while Keaton Rich and Chad Wilson each had 10 points for the Falcons.
Russell County was led by sophomore Tyler Robertson with 29 points and 11 rebounds.
Junior Blake Aaron finished the game with 11 points, eighth grader Nick Coffey added seven points, junior Hunter Best finished with five points and sophomore Barton Mann finished with three points. Senior Lakers Martin Cross and Logan Smith combined to play 34 minutes but neither scored in their final game as a Laker.
"They are what high school athletics is all about," Feldhaus said of his senior duo. "They are multiple sport players and both waited until they were seniors before they were contributors on the basketball court. They have paid their dues and will be hard to replace."
He said he never saw anything negative out of Cross or Smith in their career as they worked their way into major contributors at the varsity level.
Looking ahead, Feldhaus said he was excited about the group coming back next season and it was up to them how much better they get in the offseason, saying it was his job to make the players into a team and that they have to care about the game enough to make themselves into a player.
"We've got a talented freshman class and we've got some sophomores that have played some minutes this year," he said.
"There will be some minutes out there next year for somebody but I couldn't tell you, right now, who that is going to be."
As it stands right now, next year's senior class will consist of Blake Aaron, Hunter Best, Brandon Bunch and C.J. Bray.
Returning starters from this year's district title team will include Aaron, Robertson, Mann and Coffey, who will be a freshman next season.