(Recap courtesy KyForward.com)
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Russell used a stringent defense to hold Dixie Heights to its second-lowest point total of the season to advance to quarterfinals of the Mingua Beef Jerky Girls’ Sweet 16® by a final of 58-44.
Russell used an 8-for-12 shooting performance in the first quarter to race out to a 19-15 lead.
“I was really proud with how our girls shot in the first quarter,” stated Russell head coach Mandy Layne. “We were 8-for-12 in the first quarter and once again our defense ruled.”
The defense for the Red Devils (19-5) was outstanding for a second straight game against a team’s best players.
Russell defeated Boyd County 72-61 in the 16th Region finals after holding Miss Basketball candidate Harley Paynter to just 10 points.
The Red Devils held Dixie’s top three scorers (Madelyn Lawson, Sydney Lockard and Laci Reinhart) to a combined 18 points, which was considerably less than the 38.2 ppg the trio combined for going into the tournament.
Russell was led by Aubrey Hill’s 22-point, 9-rebound performance and was coupled with 18 points from freshman phenom Shaelyn Steele.
“Unbelievable,” said Layne when asked about Hill’s performance in Russell’s first win at state since a 54-53 win over Clay County in the 1976 tournament. “She dominated. She has become one of the best posts in the state. She had an incredible game.”
“The bigger the game, the bigger the stage, the better she is,” Layne added about Steele’s impressive outing. “We have been saying the last couple of years that she is the best point guard in the state, and I am so glad that everyone gets to see her tomorrow.”
Dixie (28-3) would find itself in a hole going into the fourth quarter that it simply could not come out of after scoring just 14 points in the second and third quarters combined.
“The game definitely didn’t end the way we wanted to,” reflected Dixie Heights head coach Joel Steczynski. “I am just really proud of our team and everything they’ve accomplished this season. I am proud of Sydney and Laci. They’ve basically resurrected a program that had been struggling before they came here. Russell played a heck of a game. Hill did everything she wanted to do and everything that we did not want her to do. We started out hot on offense and then we struggled. Russell played really good defense so hats off to them.”
Dixie was in the state tournament for the first time since 1992 and has not won a tournament game since its first trip in 1980.
The game was like watching one team scrimmage itself during the first quarter as both teams matched up really well against each other before Russell was able to impose its defensive game plan.
“They are very much like playing against ourselves,” added Steczynski when asked about preparing for Russell. “We knew that they have a strong point guard. We struggled a bit to protect the paint and that gave them a big advantage on offensive rebounding. We turned the ball over a little bit more than we wanted to in that first half. When you are playing from behind against teams like Russell, it makes it really, really difficult.”
Lawson tallied 11 points as did Reese Smith for the Colonels. Lockard was held to just four points while Reinhart tallied only three.
Russell moves into the final slot of the quarterfinals where the Red Devils will face off against Henderson County in an 8 p.m. contest Thursday.
Driver Drains Midcourt Shot, Fuels Marshall County Past Pikeville
Jada Driver took an outlet pass and launched a desperation shot from just beyond midcourt that went in to give Marshall County an 18-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Lady Marshals (23-2) would use the momentum from Driver’s shot to build as much as a 12-point lead on their way to a 56-52 over Pikeville (26-7).
The matchup of two schools from opposite ends of the state would end with Lady Panthers fans upset over the free throw shooting disparity. Marshall County ended the game shooting 20-for-34 from the charity stripe compared to Pikeville’s 5-for-8.
Pikeville was called for 23 fouls to just nine for Marshall County, but a good deal of those were late in the game when Pikeville was fouling to put the Lady Marshals at the line to try and extend the game.
Marshall County’s Cayson Conner led all scorers with 22 points on just 5-of-18 shooting, but she was 12-of-15 from the charity stripe. Driver ended with 12 points on three made 3-pointers and three free throw makes.
Trinity Rowe notched a team-high in points and assists for Pikeville. Rowe, a freshman already playing in her third Mingua Beef Jerky Girls Sweet 16, scored 18 points and dished out seven assists.
Kenzie Maynard also had a strong game for the Lady Panthers with 12 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and two assists.
Banshees Win Battle of State’s Top Teams
Bethlehem and Bullitt East were tabbed all season as being favorites to win the Mingua Beef Jerky Girls Sweet 16, but both were drawn into the same opening round game that saw Bethlehem advance 70-65.
Amelia Hodges’s jumper with 4:53 remaining in the fourth quarter gave Bethlehem a 55-54 lead that the Banshees would not relinquish down the stretch.
Bethlehem (26-4) would be led by Miss Basketball candidate Ella Thompson with 25 points and eight.
Gracie Merkle, a 6-foot-6 junior center, led the state in field goal percentage went 11-for-22 from the field and 5-for-5 from the charity stripe to lead all scorers with 27 points for Bullitt East (22-3).
Merkle completed an impressive double-double performance with 18 rebounds.
Bethlehem drained eight 3-pointers and was nearly perfect from the free throw line (16-for-17) en route to advancing to a quarterfinal matchup on Thursday with Marshall County.
Carlie Thurmond (18) and Emma Filiatreau (11) were the other double-figure scorers for Bethlehem while Emma Egan (12) and Selena Granado (10) did so for Bullit East.
Henderson County Never Trails, Cruises Past Apollo
Henderson County has been a dominant factor in the western portion of the state and used its previous big-game experience to soundly defeat Apollo 55-31.
The Lady Colonels (20-4) are in the Sweet 16 for the 17th time in program history including 14 of the last 17.
Shelbie Beatty’s layup with 4:07 left in the second quarter cut the deficit to just three at 20-17, but it would prove to be the closest the E-Gals (16-7) would get the rest of the game.
Henderson County proceeded to close out the first half on a 10-0 run.
The Lady Colonels shot 47.8 percent from the field and won the rebounding battle 30-18.
Apollo shot just 33.3 percent from the field but was led by Beatty’s 11 points.
Henderson County was led by Jarie Thomas and Sadie Wurth with 17 and 13 points, respectively.