16th Region girls final: Dancin' with the Devils: Russell holds off Lions, wins third 16th Region championship in five seasons

Mar. 9—MOREHEAD — One chance was not good enough.

Russell wanted another.

After the COVID-19 pandemic brought their state tournament opportunity to a screeching halt in 2020, the Red Devils returned the next year.

The current Russell roster did not see significant minutes on the hallowed hardwood at Rupp Arena that day, other than star guard Shaelyn Steele.

The Red Devils earned another trip on Saturday night after a team effort held off Boyd County for a 50-38 win in the 16th Region championship game at Ellis T. Johnson Arena.

It was Russell's fourth region title under coach Mandy Layne.

"I am just so happy for them," Layne said. "And for our seniors, where they didn't get to play in 2020, but they get to play this time. It's been our goal since Day 1. We had a bitter taste in our mouths with how that game ended last year (in the region semifinal). I am really proud that we were able to take care of business and that we are going to play at Rupp next week."

Senior Hannah Sanders saw limited time on the state stage in 2021 where the Red Devils won their first state tournament game since 1976. Sanders will play the same pivotal role she's played all year in Lexington.

"I am blessed," Sanders said. "I am so excited. We have worked so hard this year, all the girls, and I am so proud of them. We all played so well and it's well-deserved."

Both teams feature a high-octane offense, but the gravity of a region final can impede the number of points on the scoreboard. The second half featured a combined 23 points, and just nine in the final frame.

The moment the Red Devils found separation, they grabbed it and held on with both hands. A 15-2 run midway through the second quarter broke open a 17-17 tie. Russell held the advantage the rest of the way.

"We knew it would be a 32-minute game," Steele said. "We had beaten them twice this season, but it's tournament time and anything can happen. They have the talent to beat us. We knew that we had to come in and play in order to win this game. It was a little rough but we pulled it out."

"It's a whole different environment than the regular season," Sanders added. "Coach just tells us to go out and play our game and that's what we did."

Steele scored in the lane to begin the run. After a steal, the ball found Gabby Oborne in the corner. The guard buried the 3-ball and got fouled before completing the four-point play.

Oborne recorded an and-1 and Sanders supplied a pair of layups during the spurt to put the Red Devils up 32-17.

Boyd County committed 16 turnovers but the miscues weren't grouped together and didn't lead to long runs like the previous two regular season matchups.

"We put in a game plan to try and slow them down," Boyd County coach Pete Fraley said. "We gave them a couple of buckets early and they got them in transition. It kind of cost us. We had a couple of turnovers in the backcourt that led to easy buckets for (Russell) and it got us in a hole. When you get in a hole like that, they have ballhandlers like Bella Quinn, Shaelyn and Oborne. They are a nice ball team. Once they get a lead, it's hard to come back because they handle it so well."

The Lions would get as close as eight points early in the third quarter on a Baylee Stephens triple but they wouldn't hit another field goal until Audrey Biggs's layup to end the quarter. Russell led 45-34 going into the fourth frame.

Russell (28-6) decided to play the possession game and put those ballhandling skills on display. Each team managed just one field goal after the ball stayed on the Red Devils' end of the court.

"You could tell fatigue was setting in," Layne said, "especially on the offensive end. I was happy at the end of the game with the way we were able to pull the ball out and run some time off the clock. We could put the game away."

"I was thinking that if it was 10 or less, and we got to the fourth quarter and struggling to make shots," she added, "we would try to spread them out and get to the basket. We could get some easy baskets because I felt that matching up with us would be hard for them."

Despite playing without all three starting guards, Boyd County never stopped fighting. The young players stepped up in bigger roles and the team kept standing up to adversity, according to their coach.

"They just kept coming to practice every day," Fraley said. "We kept overcoming as we got one thing thrown at us after another. They persevered and they came back to get where we were today. That's an accomplishment in of itself."

Jasmine Jordan and Biggs put the team on their backs and willed the Lions to their eighth straight region final and the 15th appearance with Fraley at the helm.

"Whatever role that we've asked them to accept, they accepted it," Fraley said. "At times, we have put them out of place where they normally would be. They have a team-first attitude."

Biggs supplied 15 points for Boyd County (24-17). Jordan recorded nine points and seven rebounds. Both were named to the All-Tournament team.

"Give Audrey and Jas credit," Layne said. "I thought they played an unbelievable game. They made life really hard on us. We didn't turn them over nearly what we did in the regular season. We were able to get enough stops and turned them over enough times to be able to build that lead and carry us."

"They are two good players," Sanders added. "I have to give them respect. It comes from practice. We usually switch but this is a different team. We have to play their strengths with our strengths."

Steele had a game-high 17 points for the Red Devils. Quinn added 10 points and Oborne netted nine off the bench. Sanders collected seven rebounds to go along with her six points.

Russell meets McCracken County, who claimed its third straight First Region crown, in the opening round of the Sweet Sixteen at Rupp Arena on Wednesday at 1:30.

"It means a lot," said Steele, who was named the Most Valuable Player. "The state tournament is a big deal. I know all my teammates are really excited to play. It's (the seniors) last year. So playing with them in the last year means a lot."

Kennedy Darnell, Quinn and Sanders joined Steele on the All-Tournament team.


Stevens 2-5 1-4 5 7

Jordan 4-9 1-1 7 9

Moore 1-2 0-0 1 3

Biggs 5-10 6-8 6 16

Stephens 1-2 0-0 1 3

Culp 0-0 0-0 0 0

Hamilton 0-0 0-0 1 0

Gilbert 0-0 0-0 0 0

Ray 0-0 0-0 0 0

Team 3

TOTAL 13-28 8-13 24 38

FG Pct: 46.4 FT Pct: 61.5. 3-point Fgs: 4-9 (Stevens 2-4, Jordan 0-1, Moore 1-2, Biggs 0-1, Stephens 1-1) PF: 17. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 16.


Steele 6-15 3-8 8 17

Quinn 3-7 2-2 0 10

Sanders 3-5 0-0 7 6

Darnell 3-7 0-0 3 6

Fitzpatrick 1-2 0-0 0 2

Price 0-1 0-0 0 0

Oborne 2-6 4-4 0 9

Troxler 0-0 0-0 0 0

Howard 0-0 0-0 0 0

Allen 0-0 0-0 2 0

Sharp 0-0 0-0 0 0

Team 1

TOTAL 18-43 9-14 21 50

FG Pct: 41.9. FT Pct: 64.3. 3-point Fgs: 5-22 (Steele 2-7, Quinn 2-6, Darnell 0-3, Price 0-1, Oborne 1-5) PF: 11. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 6.

BOYD CO. 13 15 6 4 — 38

RUSSELL 14 23 8 5 — 50

Officials: Bob Cole, Chrissy Ruess, April Simmons

All-Tournament TeamDiamond Wills (Rowan County)

Emma Clinger (Morgan County)

Nim Maynard (Raceland)

Kenleigh Woods (Ashland)

Jaidyn Gulley (Ashland)

Gabby Karle (Ashland)

Arianna Adams (Fleming County)

Laci Burns (Fleming County)

Ava Watson (Fleming County)

Audrey Biggs (Boyd County)

Jasmine Jordan (Boyd County)

Kennedy Darnell (Russell)

Bella Quinn (Russell)

Hannah Sanders (Russell)

Shaelyn Steele (MVP, Russell)

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