By Rob Kiser
TROY — It was hard to tell which was beaming brighter Saturday at Troy High School — the gold medal around Russia senior guard Tiffany Hatcher’s neck or the smile on her face.
“This feels awesome,” Hatcher said after scoring 15 points and being a big part of the Raiders defense that held Covington without a field goal in the second half of Russia’s 42-28 victory.
For the Lady Raiders, 21-5, it is back to the D-IV regionals after a year’s absence — and for Covington, 20-6, it was the end of an amazing season after Russia erased a 21-19 halftime deficit for a 42-28 victory.
Russia will play Minster Thursday at the Vandalia Student Activities Center.
“We are excited to be back in the regional tournament,” first-year coach Andy Timmerman said. “This was a goal, but like I told the girls, we are not done yet. Each win becomes more fun.”
For a Covington team that Jim Meyer took over less than a month before practice started — and included five seniors with little varsity experience, it was an amazing run.
“I am so proud of my seniors,” Meyer said about Kara Schaffer (out for the season with an injury), Lexi Long, Justice Warner, Addison Metz and Allison Angle. “What this team was able to do. I told the girls they may not be the best girls basketball team Covington ever had, but they are definitely the most amazing. I can’t say enough about what they did this season.”
And the Buccs had visions of extending that season after leading 19-14 with three minutes to go in the first half and getting a basket by Long — off a Samantha Whiteman dish to lead 21-19 at the break.
Little did they know, that would be their last field goal of the game.
Covington shot 21 times in the second half — and none would find the target with all seven second half points coming on free throws.
“I know and we had some really good looks,” Meyer said. “Give Russia credit. They are a really good team. You definitely have to have your ‘A’ game — and in the first half, I felt like we did.”
At the same time, Russia felt like things had to change at the break.
“We talked about that at halftime,” Hatcher said. “We needed to change the momentum.”
And one play seemed to swing it for good in the Raiders favor early in the second half.
With the game tied 21-21, Laurissa Poling had the presence to get the rebound after missing two free throws — kicked it out to the corner — and Hatcher drilled her third 3-pointer to make it 24-21.
“We had some big offensive rebounds today,” Timmerman said. “And Tiffany (Hatcher) knocked down some big shots.”
None bigger than that one.
“That changed the momentum,” Hatcher said. “You could just feel it.”
Russia would never trail again.
Poling had three points to make it 27-23 going to the fourth quarter and the Raiders would pull away at the end.
“Sammi Whiteman is a great guard,” Timmerman said. “To hold them without a field goal in the second half and seven points in the half, that is pretty impressive. Tiffany (Hatcher) did a good job keeping Sammi in front of her and the girls inside did a great job keeping them off the boards.”
And the ending was a little deja vu.
In the first meeting of the two teams, Covington was tied midway through the fourth quarter — only to see the Lady Raiders put the game away at the line.
Saturday was no different.
Russia made 11 of 12 shots from the line in the final quarter, with Herron making five of six for the game and Hatcher a perfect 4-for-4.
“What everybody who is going to play Russia shoud know and we do know is that you can’t send them to the line,” Meyer said. “We learned that in the first game and they did it again today. They are going to make free throws.”
The game had started with Hatcher hiting a three in the first 30 seconds — and she would score eight in the first half.
“They have a lot of shooters,” Meyer said. “We lost the Hatcher girl a couple times — but Maria Herron, Whitney Pleiman, Jenna Cordonnier — they call hit them. You can’t lose their shooters.”
But, with Russia leading 14-13 midway through the second quarter, Metz hit two jumpers for Covington and Whiteman added a basket to give Covington a 19-14 lead.
At that point, Russia began to double Whiteman on the press and it took Covington out of its offense.
“She (Sammi Whiteman) is a great player, you don’t want her getting her hands on the ball,” Timmerman said. “I thought our trap was effective.”
And if you had told Meyer Herron would not make a field goal — and only attempt five — he would have been happy.
“And I thought our girls inside did a good job of them,” Meyer said. “We just lot their shooters a couple times.”
The momentum began to change as Russia closed to within 21-19 at the break — and the Raiders defense never allowed Covington to regain it.
“I thought Covington did a great job on Maria (Herron),” Timmerman said. “We had some other girls step up.”
And Hatcher knew she needed to.
“We talked about it,” Hatcher said about the Covington defense. “And Maria (Herron) did a great job getting me the ball.”
Poling had big game inside with eight points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots, while Cameo Wilson also scored eight points and Whitney Pleiman grabbed five rebounds.
Whiteman had 12 points and seven rebounds for Covington, while Lexie Long grabbed nine rebounds and Justice Warner had three assists.
Russia was 11 of 41 from the floor for 27 percent, including three of 15 from 3-point range for 20 percent. The Lady Raiders made 17 of 21 free throws for 81 percent.
Covington was nine of 44 from the floor for 21 percent, including one of 12 from behind the arc for eight percent. The Lad Buccs made nine of 11 free throws for 82 percent.
Covington won the battle of the boards 36-33, but had 18 turnovers to Russia’s 16.
“We are really happy with this win today,” Timmerman said.
But, as one amazing season came to an end, Russia is looking to extend another one.
Laurissa Poling 3-2-8, Tiffany Hatcher 4-4-15, Cameo Wilson 3-2-8, Whitney Pleiman 0-2-2, Maria Herron 0-5-5, Jenna Cordonnier 1-2-4, Olivia Moorman 0-0-0, Shea Borchers 0-0-0, Katie Heuing 0-0-0, Andrea Monnin 0-0-0, Jessica York 0-0-0, Jessica Colby 0-0-0. Totals: 11-17-42.
Lexie Long 1-0-2, Sammi Whiteman 3-5-12, Justice Warner 1-0-2, Addison Metz 2-2-6, Tori Lyle 1-2-4, Lillian Hamilton 0-0-0, Allison Angle 0-0-0, Shae Robinson 0-0-0, Makenzie Long 0-0-0, Morgan Lowe 0-0-0, Josie Crowell 0-0-0, Lauren Christian 1-0-2. Totals: 9-9-28.
3-point field goals — Russia: Hatcher (3). Covington: Whiteman.
Score By Quarters
Russia 9 19 27 42
Covington 11 21 23 28
Records: Russia 21-5, Covington 20-6.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.