Jan. 7—RUSSELL — Russell had won 12 of its first 15 games before entertaining Lewis County on Friday night.
The successful stretch included three championships. The Red Devils claimed the first-place hardware at the Eastern Kentucky Conference Tournament, the Derby Classic and most recently, in the mountains of Tennessee at the King of the Smokies Tournament.
Russell hopes the most important wins on the regular-season slate are still in front of it. Postseason seeding started at Marvin Meredith Gym against the Lions.
Lewis County made the home team work for it. Every time the Red Devils look primed to gain separation in the second half, the Lions had the answer.
Russell leaned on a steady second-quarter run and big man Damon Charles to secure a 58-47 victory in its first 63rd District seeding game.
"Those games are tough, physical and fast-paced," Caleb Rimmer said of the team's tournament experience. "You have to hustle to even be in those games."
Red Devils coach Derek Cooksey said the team knows their strengths and they have come useful in compiling wins this season.
"We've been in games that people would consider grinders this year," Cooksey said. "Our kids have embraced that. Our defense has been our backbone and our identity. We've had some good nights offensively. We do a great job of playing inside-out. A lot of the teams inside in our region don't play that particular style. Any time we can get it inside, we feel confident."
Andrew Collins hit two triples to ignite a final Lions rally in the fourth. Lewis County (3-10, 0-1 in 63rd District seeding) cut the deficit to one, but Charles scored eight straight points, including six in a row from the free throw line to keep his team out front for good.
Charles tallied a second-chance bucket in the midst of his shooting display at the charity stripe. He added a wing jumper, Carson Blum hit two free throws and Rimmer concluded a run of seven consecutive points with a basket to end the contest.
Charles posted a double-double with a game-high 26 points and 11 rebounds. Rimmer collected 17 points, seven rebounds and was a perfect 6 of 6 from the field.
"(Damon and I) are good at the high-low game," Rimmer said. "I have learned some moves from him. I have learned to be stronger. He keeps pushing me in practice. It has helped me a lot down in the post."
"I feel comfortable and confident," he added, "especially when I fouled and get to the free throw line. I feel good up there."
Cooksey said the duo can do more than score the ball. They are the focal point on the offensive end, and the attention they get can lead to open shooters.
"Once we got Caleb back and healthy, it's added another dimension to the offense," Cooksey said. "We have two solid post players. Both can step out and shoot the basketball. They are a tough combination and a tough matchup night in and night out. Our guards have learned to play off of them and be ready for their opportunities to score."
Drew Noble recorded a pair of quick buckets to give Lewis County a 12-8 advantage after one quarter. Lions extended the margin with a 11-4 spurt to the start the second quarter as they increased their full-court pressure.
Lewis County coach Scott Tackett has only had a full roster for four games as senior Trey Gerike battled health issues earlier this season.
The Lions are looking for a significant victory and their coach was pleased with the inspired effort.
"We have played a really good schedule," Tackett said. "It's been a learning process. My coaches and I felt really good coming in here tonight. Our message was to put 32 minutes together. I still don't think we put 32 minutes of execution together. We got up nine and they went zone. We see a zone a lot because of Trey and Drew. ... The fight and toughness we showed for 32 minutes is something we can build on."
Russell (13-3, 1-0) took a timeout to regroup, and the conversation worked. The Red Devils forced six turnovers before the break and bolted ahead with 13 straight points. Charles scored six points in the final four minutes of the second stanza.
"Lewis County came out and did what they wanted defensively," Cooksey said. "They wanted to impose their will on us. They are getting everybody back and acclimated. ... It was tied 8-8 and they hit one right before the (end of the first) quarter. I wanted to wake us up a little bit."
"We've been on an extended break," he continued. "The kids worked hard, and I wanted to get them energized. I feel like our press, even though we didn't result in a lot of turnovers, set the tone."
Lewis County leaned on their improved depth as Gerike had to sit midway through the second quarter with three fouls. Noble eventually fouled out in the fourth frame with 4:47 still left on the clock.
"We had to build up some depth because Trey was gone for so long," Tackett said. "His first game was Dec. 28. His brother, Hunter, Colton Tackett and Braedyn McGlone have all gotten some time. We have had some growing pains. Hopefully, the schedule that we have faced has helped us grow and mature. It helped up compete in this game tonight."
The Lions still kept their opponent in their sights and didn't let the Russell margin grow too large.
The Red Devils maintained a seven-point lead twice in the third quarter and could never pull away until the final two minutes.
Gavin Carter also scored in the lane and Elijah Neel completed a three-point play in the surge to give Russell a 27-22 lead at halftime.
Gerike, Noble and Collins each had 10 points to lead the Lions.
LEWIS CO. FG FT REB TP
H. Gerike 0-0 0-0 0 0
Collins 4-8 0-0 1 10
T. Gerike 5-12 0-2 2 10
Prater 3-7 0-0 8 6
Noble 5-15 0-0 7 10
Box 1-4 2-6 4 4
McGlone 1-1 0-0 1 2
Tackett 2-2 0-0 0 5
TOTALS 21-49 2-8 25 47
FG Pct: 42.9. FT Pct: 25.0. 3-point FGs: 3-12 (Collins 2-5, T. Gerike 0-2, Prater 0-1, Noble 0-2, Box 0-1, Tackett 1-1) Fouls: 19. Fouled out: Noble. Turnovers: 14.
RUSSELL FG FT REB TP
Quinn 0-2 1-2 1 1
Blum 0-2 4-4 0 4
G. Carter 2-8 1-2 2 5
Rimmer 6-6 5-6 7 17
Charles 10-14 6-6 11 26
Neel 1-2 1-2 0 3
Fleming 0-1 0-0 1 0
Z. Carter 1-1 0-0 1 2
TOTALS 20-36 18-22 25 58
FG Pct: 55.6. FT Pct: 81.8. 3-point FGs: 0-6 (Quinn 0-1, G. Carter 0-2, Charles 0-1, Neel 0-1, Fleming 0-1) Fouls: 11. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 11.
LEWIS CO. 10 12 12 13 — 47
RUSSELL 8 19 12 19 — 58
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