By Bryant Billing
Sidney Daily News
Russia faced a tough defensive task with Xenia Legacy Christian in a Sidney D-IV sectional final Wednesday night.
The Knights have three players that average over 10 points per game, and the squad and averages nearly 56 points per game.
Russia held Legacy well below its average and largely contained its top two scorers.
Sophomore guard Kathleen Ahner proved uncontainable, though.
Ahner capped off a 19-point performance by hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Knights to a 41-38 victory. Legacy (23-2), which was the sectional’s No. 2 seed, advances to face the winner of Covington vs. Franklin-Monroe in a district final on Saturday in Troy.
“We did a really good job (defensively) tonight and kept them out of the middle of the floor, but they threw some shots up and made them,” Russia coach Andy Timmerman said. “… It was just one lucky shot.”
Legacy sophomore forward Emma Hess and senior guard Emily Riddle average 16 and 12 points per game, respectively, but combined for 13 on Wednesday.
Ahner made up for the difference by hitting big shot after big shot to power Legacy’s scoring runs. Her best shot came at the end.
Russia senior guard Jenna Cordonnier hit a 3 with 10 seconds left to tie it 38-38. After a timeout, Ahner took the ball up the court and passed Maddy Combs on the right wing.
Two Russia defenders went off of Ahner and onto Combs, and Ahner took a few steps back to the left wing. Combs passed back to Ahner, and she hit a 3 with pressure from a diving Russia defender to seal the win.
“We were trying to get it out of her hands and speed them up a little bit,” Timmerman said. “We hadn’t done it all game, and we’d noticed previous times that they’d get sped up and tend to force a quick shot or something like that. We were trying to disrupt them instead of them getting back into one of their sets, but they got it back to the right person they needed to, and we weren’t able to close out on her.”
Russia finishes 15-10 overall and will lose four seniors to graduation, including Cordonnier. The squad will also lose forward Laurissa Poling, forward Katie Hueing and guard Shea Borchers. Poling averaged 12.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and Cordonnier averaged 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Cordonnier and Poling were both first team all-Shelby County Athletic League selections this year and were multiple-year starters. Russia advanced to a regional semifinal in 2017 and advanced to a district final last year.
“All the seniors have brought us to the next level,” Timmerman said. “This season, we were struggling in the middle part of it, and they’re the ones that got us going again. Whatever role they had, whether on the floor, off the floor, in the locker room, lightening the mood, they were the ones that were doing it.
“I think they learned on that aspect, how to lead a team. I think that’s going to help them moving forward. We were able to overcome some obstacles, fight through some injuries and some adversity. I thought they responded well and I’m proud of every single one of them.”
Russia, which was the No. 3 seed, led 17-12 late in the first quarter but Ahner scored two consecutive baskets to bring Legacy Christian within one point at halftime.
Jessica York opened the second half with a basket for Russia, but Margaret Kensinger hit a 3 and Ahner followed with a basket to put the Knights ahead 21-19.
The Knights built a 28-24 lead late in the third, but consecutive baskets by York tied it with 7:39 left in the fourth.
Legacy followed with a 5-2 run but Ashley Scott hit a 3 from the top of the key and followed with a long shot just inside the arc with 3:40 left to put Russia ahead 35-33. Ahner hit a 3 from the left wing with 2:31 left to give the Knights a 36-35 lead, then Riddle made a basket with 1:07 left to put the Knights ahead by three.
After each team turned it over, Russia was forced to foul with about 24 seconds left. Legacy missed a 1-and-1, and Cordonnier hit a wide-open 3 from the left wing to tie it with 10 seconds left.
Timmerman said he was pleased with how the team battled back after Legacy built four- and three-point leads in the second half. He said when similar situations happened against tough opponents in regular season, the squad sometimes faded.
The Raiders won four of their last five games.
“That’s the way our girls have been playing — keeping fighting,” Timmerman said. “Since the Anna game (a 54-31 loss at Anna on Jan. 31), I felt like we turned a corner. These girls just got it, started playing better together and just started clicking. We were playing our best basketball here late. They just hit one too many shots for us.”
Scott, a sophomore guard, led Russia with 13 points and will look to be one of several key returnees next season. Another starter set to return is sophomore guard Kendall Monnin.
“We’ve just got to keep reloading,” Timmerman said. “Instead of having to rebuild, we just have to reload. We’ve got some talent coming but we’re going to miss the seniors.”
Poling finished with eight points while York scored seven and Cordonnier added six. Hess scored nine for the Knights and Kensinger scored six.
Scott hit a bank-shot 3 with 6:20 left in the first quarter to give Russia a 6-2 lead. Combs hit a 3 on Legacy’s next possession to bring the Knights within one point, then neither team scored for the next four minutes.
After Monnin hits two free throws with 2:38 left, Ahner completed a three-point play with 48 seconds left to tie it 8-8 heading into the second.
Hess hit a basket with 4:27 left in the second to put Legacy ahead 12-11 but Russia scored the next six points on baskets by Poling, Olivia Moorman and Scott. Ahner scored two baskets in the last 40 seconds, though, to bring the Knights within 17-16 at halftime.