16th Region girls semis: The late show: Red Devils use closing surge to knock out Kittens

Mar. 8—MOREHEAD — Each shot took on a new meaning inside Johnson Arena on Friday night.

The spotlight was its brightest, given the stage at the 16th Region Tournament semifinals.

Both teams engaged in a back-and-forth battle on the court but weren't hitting shots for three quarters. Russell found a successful stretch and used a late 10-0 run to earn a 47-40 win over rival Ashland.

"We have worked and worked on taking care of the basketball," Russell coach Mandy Layne said. "I could not be more proud of my crew down the stretch. We had put in some side out-of-bounds plays and they ran them to perfection. We waited until they fouled us."

The second half featured seven lead changes. The final shift came with a splash. Shaelyn Steele found an opening and hit a corner 3 to give the Red Devils the advantage for good with 3:52 remaining.

Kennedy Darnell lengthened the lead with a drive to the basket and a layup on the next possession.

The sophomore doesn't shy away from the big moment any longer. She runs toward it.

"I feel like it's just practice and the experience of playing with these girls," Darnell said. "It has given me more confidence. Having that experience on the floor with my teammates, I will know what to expect."

Layne knows that big-game performances are part of the Darnell bloodline. She also coached her sister Madison.

"She is a gamer and she is a Darnell," Layne said. "They like the limelight. We told them that we needed someone else to step up. Our defense was just unbelievable tonight."

"I knew that if we kept playing as hard as we could," Darnell added, "and we kept our heads up, things would turn around and we would have a very good chance."

During the final surge, the Russell defense had several instrumental moments in the closing minutes, including a steal by Gabby Oborne and a pivotal block by Hannah Sanders.

The Kittens committed 11 second-half turnovers and scored five points in the final frame. The team could not find a rhythm offensively.

"It was our offense," Ashland coach Stacy Davis said. "We just couldn't put the ball in the basket. Turnovers killed us. We put the ball back in their hands. We only scored 40 points. When we've scored 40, we've struggled to win."

Steele scored a layup after halftime to push the Red Devils ahead but Gabby Karle swished a 3 and Aryanna Gulley scored in a crowd down low to give Ashland its biggest lead at 29-25.

"There were a couple of times we went up three then we went up four," Davis said, "and then the momentum would swing back to them. It went back and forth. They got it at the end and we could not regain it back."

Steele answered the mini-run with five straight points. Darnell expected nothing less for the star guard.

"She is such a role model," Darnell said. "I don't know what I would do without her. I just want to do whatever I can for the team, whatever it takes."

Both teams shot an identical 8 of 24 from the field in the first half. Russell stayed close with its accuracy from behind the arc. The Red Devils made four of their six attempts from deep.

Darnell started the game red hot, hitting her first three shots. A pair of 3s and a short jumper helped spring her team to an early 10-4 lead.

Ashland fought back to secure the final six points of the quarter. Karle drove baseline and recorded a reverse layup. Jenna Delaney hit from downtown, three of her seven first-half points off the bench.

The second quarter opened with a pair of ties. Steele hit her first field goal of the contest with 4:36 remaining until halftime. The senior's second foul followed and she spent the rest of the first half on the bench.

The Red Devils navigated foul trouble in the second frame after three players picked up their second personal. Ashland (26-7) held a 24-22 lead at the break.

Steele produced a 6-of-18 shooting night but started to assert herself after halftime. Russell shot 32.6% but made 6 of 10 from beyond the arc.

"I am really proud of her," Layne said. "She stepped in and hit some huge shots for us when we needed her to. It was a team effort."

Kenleigh Woods led the Kittens with 14 points. Karle added seven points and seven rebounds.

Davis said her three seniors have made the program better and expects they will do the same at the next stop in their playing careers.

"I have three seniors, Ella (Sellars), Jaidyn (Gulley) and Asia (Thomas)," Davis said. "Asia has had two ACL injuries. All three of them are going to play at the next level. We will miss them. They have been a big part of our program. They have been leaders in the locker room. I will miss that especially and we will cheer them on during their next adventure."

Steele tallied a game-high 21 points. Darnell netted 15 points and Sanders grabbed nine boards.

Russell will have to find a way to harness that momentum and keep it for one more night. The Red Devils meet Boyd County, who won a 43-41 thriller against Fleming County in the title game.

The region championship tips at 7.

"I want them to enjoy this for the next 12 hours," Layne said. "We are going to have a team breakfast at 11 a.m. and then we will get focused on the championship."


Steele 6-18 7-11 5 21

Quinn 1-6 0-0 2 3

Sanders 2-6 1-2 9 6

Darnell 5-10 3-5 4 15

Fitzpatrick 0-1 0-0 3 0

Oborne 0-0 2-2 0 2

Allen 0-2 0-0 1 0

Team 5

TOTAL 14-43 13-20 29 47

FG Pct: 32.6. FT Pct: 65.0. 3-point FGs: 6-10 (Steele 2-4, Quinn 1-1, Sanders 1-1, Darnell 2-4) PF: 16. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 12.


Woods 4-11 5-7 6 14

Karle 3-6 0-2 7 7

J. Gulley 2-6 1-2 7 5

Sellars 0-9 0-0 4 0

A. Gulley 1-2 2-2 2 4

Duckwyler 1-5 1-2 6 3

Delaney 3-6 0-0 3 7

Team 3

TOTAL 14-45 9-15 38 40

FG Pct: 31.1. FT Pct: 60.0. 3-point Fgs: 3-12 (Woods 1-3, Karle 1-1, J. Gulley 0-1, Sellars 0-4, Duckwyler 0-2, Delaney 1-1) PF: 16. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 16.

RUSSELL 11 11 12 13 — 47

ASHLAND 12 12 11 5 — 40

Officials: Michael Stokes, Bob Cole, Kyler Padgett

(606) 326-2671