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South Range rolls into district final

Correspondent photo / Ron Firth -- South Range’s Bree Kohler leads the fast break against East Palestine’s Mia Lee on Wednesday.

BEAVER TOWNSHIP — The top-seeded South Range Raiders girls basketball team had a clear goal to get back to the regionals again this year. On Wednesday night, the Raiders took another step toward that target by blasting the 15th-seeded East Palestine Bulldogs, 70-25, in a Division III district semifinal.

“This was important for just playing as a team, working together and getting better every game. This game definitely helps boost our confidence,” said Raider junior guard Alexis Giles of the importance of the win.

The Raiders improved to 21-4 and advanced to host third-seeded Brookfield on at 1 p.m. Saturday in the district title game.

“We’re getting to the point where the practices are getting a little more focused and each game gets a little bit bigger. So we are happy we get to continue,” South Range coach Jeff Fishel said.

The Bulldogs, champions of the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference, closed the season with an 8-3 record.

“I’m proud of the way our girls played tonight. They didn’t quit, they didn’t lay down. They played for four quarters. So I’m very proud of our kids,” Bulldogs coach Will Franklin said.

The Raiders led the game from the opening tip to the final buzzer, but the Bulldogs gave the Raiders trouble early with South Range holding a 10-7 advantage midway through the first quarter. That is when things changed decisively.

Over the next 11 minutes, the Raiders went on a 26-2 run to hold a commanding 36-9 lead at halftime.

“After hitting the first few shots it definitely boosted my confidence and I felt a lot better,” Giles said about her 12 first-half points. “It made it easier to take shots. And everyone else was making shots, so that helps.”

Fishel had plenty of praise for the opposition.

“That was a nice stretch for us once we figured things out a little bit,” Fishel said. “East Palestine is an amazingly good team. They are really talented with a ton of great players, and coach Franklin does a terrific job and he has built that program into one of the best in the area.

“That showed how hard we played against them. When you play that hard against someone that tells them how much respect you have for them.”

Following a quick basket by the Raiders’ Izzy Lamparty to start the second half, the Bulldogs showed a lot of spirit by going on a 6-0 run to make it 38-15 early in the third period. But the Raiders regained the momentum and closed the quarter with a 53-19 lead.

“There wasn’t any x and o strategy. It was we have to play with some pride,” Franklin said about his halftime talk. “Our community rallied behind this team, our school district, and our fan base. We wanted to play for pride in the second half. I told them I didn’t care about the scoreboard right now. Let’s just play for pride and go out like the winners that we are. And I feel like they did that.”

The Raiders took advantage of many Bulldog turnovers in the second half to score some quick transition baskets helping them to pull out to the 50-point final margin.

“I’m proud of our girls. We had a lot of adversity this year with covid cancellations, losing a lot of games to other teams losing their season,” Franklin said. “It was an uphill battle all year, but our girls kept fighting. Being league champs and sectional championship out of this (season), so all in all I’m proud of the way our girls fought all season.

“We have never won a league championship at East Palestine in girls basketball. We brought some excitement back to our community. It gave our younger kids, especially our junior high kids, that weren’t maybe sure about playing basketball, now have a new spark and interest. Hopefully, we can feed off this as a program and keep it going.”

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