State basketball: Russia’s tournament run ends in hard-fought loss to Richmond Heights

With 37 seconds left, Russia interim head coach Spencer Cordonnier began subbing out his seniors and starters. He greeted each with a smile and a big hug. He didn’t show the disappointment typical of a losing coach.

“What was there to be disappointed about?” he said.

Cordonnier wasn’t sad after the way his Raiders fought as the heavy underdog against defending Division IV state champion Richmond Heights, a team that owned a 36-point scoring margin against its opponents.

But the Raiders trailed by only three points entering the fourth quarter. They had led often and by as many as seven. But the bigger, longer and quicker Spartans gained control early in the fourth and pulled away for a 66-51 victory. The Spartans meet Convoy Crestview at 2 p.m. Sunday in the final.

“We knew we could play with them,” said Russia junior Hayden Quinter, who scored 17 points and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. “Coming in everybody in the community believed in us. And the defense we play, we knew we could handle anybody in the state. So just get out there and play like dogs, and that’s what we did.”

Cordonnier told his players he loved them as he pulled them out and reminded them in the locker room that their performance will be remembered for a long time.

“You’re in the state semifinals against a team that you’re not even supposed to be on the floor with – so everybody says,” Cordonnier said. “And we fought like crazy. I told them in the locker room – yeah, I was crying in the locker room – ‘Put some smiles on your faces.’ I said, ‘You’re on the biggest stage playing against a team that you’re not even supposed to be on the same floor with and you gave yourself a chance to win. It’s all you can ask for.’”

The Russia community that packed half of the lower arena appreciated the effort. When the Raiders got to an early 5-4 lead their cheers filled the building. And it continued with every big play on both ends of the floor.

“The crowd was amazing,” said junior Brayden Monnin, who scored a game-high 20 points. “Every time you looked up everybody was standing up cheering for us. You’d make a big shot, the whole gym was erupting. It gave us a big advantage and just just helped us tremendously.”

But the crowd could carry the Raiders only so far. A 3-pointer by the Spartans’ Demarris Winters and a steal and layup by Dorian Jones in the final 27 seconds of the third quarter put the Spartans up 41-38 heading to the fourth.

Then Jones hit the biggest shots of the game with three consecutive 3-pointers that put the Spartans up 53-42 with 4:51 left. The Raiders kept fighting, but the deficit was too big and the legs were too tired.

“I had two cramps in my calves at the end of the game,” Monnin said. “We were just all gassed at halftime. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was dog tired. And I’m sure everybody else was too because everybody’s panting in the locker room.”

The Raiders were the better shooters: 50% to 48.9%. They outrebounded the Spartans 30-18. But Russia knew turnovers could hurt, and they committed 22 of them that led to 29 points for the Spartans.

Russia’s loss ends an emotional ride the team has been on since head coach Dave Borchers died two weeks before the first day of practice after a car wreck. The team went to the front row of seats across from their bench after the game and greeted the Borchers family.

“I told my wife I don’t want it to end tonight,” Cordonnier said. “But I’m ready to not be talking about the accident after every single game. And like we’ve said many times before, we’d have went 0-23 this year if it meant having our friend back.

“These guys had a vision to get to the regional and see what happened from there. And here we are.”

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