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Russell defeats Dixie Heights, 58-44, in girls Sweet 16; Colonels finish season with 27-3 record

By Don Owen
NKyTribune sports editor

LEXINGTON — Russell head coach Mandy Layne wasn’t surprised by Aubrey Hill’s performance against Dixie Heights on Thursday night in the girls Sweet 16.

“She dominated. She’s become one of the best post (players) in the state,” Layne said after watching Hill score 22 points and grab nine rebounds to lead Russell to a 58-44 victory at Rupp Arena. “She had an incredible game.”

Sydney Lockard (22) of Dixie Heights drives past Russell’s Aubrey Hill on Thursday night. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Hill poured in 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting from the field in the first half as Russell built a 32-23 lead at the break. She also scored a basket near the end of the opening half after grabbing an offensive rebound to give the Red Devils a nine-point advantage.

“Hill did everything she wanted to do, and everything we did not want her to do,” Dixie Heights head coach Joel Steczynski said.

Russell point guard Shaelyn Steele also played a key role with 18 points, six blocked shots and six rebounds.

“We’ve been saying she’s the best point guard in the state,” Layne said of Steele. “I’m so glad everyone gets to see her again tomorrow (in the state quarterfinals).”

Russell (20-5) held Dixie Heights (27-3) to 36.2 percent shooting from the field. The Red Devils methodically pulled away in the second half and ended the Dixie Heights winning streak at 22 games.

Prior to Thursday night, Dixie Heights had not lost since a 40-35 setback at Cooper on Jan. 22.

“We started off hot on offense, and then we struggled,” Steczynski said. “Russell played really good defense. I hand it to them. Hats off to them. Unfortunately it didn’t end up the way that we wanted it to.”

Madelyn Lawson and Reese Smith each scored 11 points to lead Dixie Heights, which was making its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1992. Lawson netted six points in the opening quarter, but Russell edged ahead by a 19-15 score.

Laci Reinhart buried a 3-pointer early in the second quarter to cut the Russell lead to 22-20, but the Red Devils responded with an 8-0 run to extend their advantage to 30-20. Hill scored on a pair of inside baskets after pulling down offensive rebounds to ignite the spurt.

Dixie Heights sophomore Reese Smith (24) attempts a jumper while being closely defended by Russell’s Kaeli Ross (15) on Thursday night. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

“We struggled to protect the paint,” Steczynski said. “That gave them a big advantage.”

Lawson converted a jumper with 3:13 left in the third quarter to bring Dixie Heights within 36-29, but Russell again countered with a 7-0 run — the final three points a trey by Kaeli Ross in the closing seconds — to take a 43-29 lead into the final eight minutes.

“We had a couple of (big shots) at the end of the quarters,” Layne said of the baskets by Hill and Ross.

Jenna Adkins finished with 11 points for Russell, which shot 48.9 percent from the field. The Red Devils made 62.5 percent of their shots in the fourth quarter to maintain a double-digit lead and cruise into Friday’s quarterfinal contest against Henderson County.

Samantha Berman scored nine points off the bench for Dixie Heights. Senior guard Sydney Lockard netted four points and grabbed five rebounds in her final game for the Colonels.

Steczynski praised both Lockard and Reinhart for what they have meant to the Dixie Heights program.

“Sydney and Laci, they’ve basically resurrected a program that had been struggling before they (arrived),” Steczynski said.

While starting at guard the past five years, Lockard scored 1,574 career points. She also earned most valuable player honors at the 9th Region Tournament after leading Dixie Heights to its first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1992.

Reinhart averaged 11.6 points per game this season after sitting out as a junior with an injury.

A year ago, Russell posted a 76-55 victory against Dixie Heights during a regular-season tournament at Pikeville.

Don Owen is sports editor of the Northern Kentucky Tribune. Contact him at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport.

Samantha Berman (21) of Dixie Heights drives past Russell’s Jenna Adkins (12) on Thursday night. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Ella Steczynski (00) of Dixie Heights tries to save a loose ball against Russell on Thursday night. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

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