Russia used a 12-2 run to finish the first half…and a 20-2 run to start the second to crush Fairlawn, move to 2-0, in Friday Shelby County League action.
Russia, OH – For a quarter, anyway, it looked like SCL basketball. Visiting Fairlawn (0-2) hit a pair of loose three-pointers (one to close the first quarter) and held their own against the heavily-favored, and much-anticipated Russia Raiders Friday at Claire Naveau Gym.
Then, the roof fell in on the Jets hangar.
There can’t be a more athletic team in Division IV basketball than Russia this year, and the Raiders used that athleticism to go on a 12-2 run to finish the fist half…and a 20-2 run to open the second. Along the way toward an eventual 78-39 win they created 26 turnovers, 17 steals, and enough uncontested shots in transition as to look like a layup line in pre-game warmups. Russia, literally, ran the Jets out of the gym as a showcase to future opponents that if you don’t want it to happen to you…you’d better be able to control the pace of the game. Otherwise, Spencer Cordonnier and the Raiders will.
“We tried it last week at St. Henry…just let them run and see what happens,” said Cordonnier, afterwards. Russia won that game with St. Henry, another athletic and anticipated team, by twenty points.
But Fairlawn was no such challenge Friday as Cordonnier’s Raiders were beastly on defense, a more athletic version of last year’s state Final Four team that lost in the semi-final round, and the question might remain with how to make advantage with so many returners off that team, stronger and a year more experienced, who command more attention with the ball.
“It’s an issue of how do you feed that many,” smiled Cordonnier Friday, assessing his embarrassment of riches.
They proved Friday, as they’ll prove throughout the coming season that few area Division IV teams, at least, can keep pace with Russia, capable of playing 8, with a veteran presence even on their JV squad, that at times Friday played as many as five juniors.
“We’re creating pace,” adds Cordonnier. “We think we have eight kids that we can run with, and we just keep running them. Just keep up the pace and see if teams can still play with us in the fourth quarter. Let’s use the pace to our favor. Even after a made basket, let’s get out and go.
“We gambled a lot [tonight]. They (Fairlawn) did a good job there in the first quarter, and we’re going to give up a layup or two. But we have to trust the process. By the time the fourth quarter comes around we’re going to be just fine. The goal is to just wear teams out.”
They finished Friday with four in double figures, and nine different players who scored. Ben York and Braylon Cordonnier both had 14, Hayden Quinter had 11, and Brayden Monnin had 12. Felix Francis had 8, Jaxon Grojean had 7, Vince Borchers, Zeb Schulze, and Dominic Francis each finished with 4.
Garret Maddy led Fairlawn with 13 points, while three teammates, Nolan Cramer, Gavin Landry, and Drew Westerbeck each had 6.
Senior Hayden Quinter admits to playing basketball for fun, and has no illusions of grandeur beyond Russia High School involving basketball at the next level.
He has no grand plan for redemption, or a rematch at this point, with a Richmond Heights team that not only returns all five starters from last year’s Division IV title team, but added 6’8” T.J. Crumble over the summer, transferring in from Div. III state champion Lutheran East.
There are no thoughts at this point of March Madness, although social media is already projecting teams that could challenge Richmond Heights, assuming that Russia might head the list, given the number of returning participants from a year ago.
“But I told the boys on day one of practice that there would be no mention of Richmond Heights,” says Cordonnier. “At this point there’s no need. There’s nothing I can do about them. Nothing that I can control.”
But that’s ‘coach-speak’, of course. Richmond coach Quentin Roberts welcoming Crumble to an already stacked lineup over the summer has raised the ire of a number of small-school coaches across the landscape…one from Division IV who recently commented, “It’s not like he’s transferring (Crumble) because he likes the English Lit teacher.”
And, if a more-athletic Russia is fortunate enough to get that far again, projection is likely to become reality. Richmond Heights will be there.
Cordonnier acknowledges, “Social media is already saying that Russia has the best shot against them. And that may be, but…that’s a long way away.
“Yes, someone has to control what’s going on,” he added. “Someone should be responsible, and not just there, but with other schools, as well. And if they think they can make this go away by adding two or three more divisions…well, it’s not going to go away.”
It is a unique group at Russia, probably the most athletic group of athletes in history of the school…a school who has made it to the State Tournament exactly twice in the tournament’s hundred-year history. And while the future is never certain, or promised, the recent past is not so far away…and very near in the memory of those who witnessed Russia get worn down by all that size and height last March.
When he lost to Botkins in the semi-final round of the 2021 tournament, Quentin Rogers answered reporters who asked if he was surprised to be beaten by a school like Botkins. “We’ll never come here again like we did today,” Rogers said.
He didn’t go into specifics, but he meant it!