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December 13, 2013

H.S. GIRLS' BASKETBALL: Red Devils upset No. 2 Valkyries, 59-56

Jeff rallies from down 14; Vogen leads Devils with 23

JEFFERSONVILLE — Since the start of the season, first-year Jeffersonville girls’ basketball coach Mike Warren has been trying to convince his players that if they execute his system, they can beat any opponent.

On Thursday night, the Red Devils showed they are believing their coach.

After trailing 21-7 near the end of the first quarter, Jeff rallied to defeat Sacred Heart Academy from Louisville, the second-ranked team in Kentucky, 59-56.

“They finally put it out there and showed what they are capable of doing,” Warren said about his players. “We put it out there against an outstanding team.”

Behind 35-24 at halftime, the Red Devils (6-1) turned the tables in the second half thanks to three things.

First, Jeff held the Valkyries (2-1) to only 21 points in the final 16 minutes. Sacred Heart senior forward Dai Jia Ruffin had only four points in the latter half following a 14-point first half to give her a team-high 18.

“She’s unbelievable, first of all. She had an outstanding first half,” Warren said about Ruffin. “We just made an effort and doubled her at every moment. We just tried to create a box around her and make somebody else beat us.”

Second, the Valkyries made 12 turnovers in the second half, including eight in the third quarter. As a result, the Red Devils turned several of those miscues into points.

Finally, Jeff converted 14 of 17 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Red Devil guard Taylor Sykes made 8 of 10 foul shots in the stanza after going 2 of 7 from the stripe in the first three periods.

Jeff took its first lead of the game with seven minutes remaining in regulation when Nycia Ford made a bucket to put the Devils up 44-43. She then knocked down a free throw to compete the three-point play.

With the Red Devils up 54-53, they put some distance between themselves and the Valkyries by scoring four unanswered points, all coming on Sykes’ free throws.

With 3.6 seconds left, Ruffin knocked down a 3-pointer to pull Sacred Heart to within 58-56. Sykes gave Jeff a three-point lead after making 1 of 2 foul shots.

On the final possession of the contest, Valkyrie senior guard Raven Merriweather missed a half-court shot that clanged off the left of the rim at the final buzzer.

“They just settled down and believed in what we were preaching, and they executed,” Warren said about his players in the final half. “Basically after we got down 14, we just chipped away, chipped away, chipped away. I’m so happy for them to finally believe and buy into what they are doing.”

Senior center Haley Vogen led the Red Devils with a game-high 23 points and a game-high eight rebounds.

Warren credited Vogen for keeping Jeff’s heads above water in the first half. She had 16 points in the opening 16 minutes, including 11 in the third quarter, as the Red Devil guards did a solid job passing Vogen the ball in the post.

“We’ve been working on that. We’ve been stressing getting her the ball in the post,” Warren said. “She kept us in the game in the first half. We had to go away from her a little bit in the second half. We tried to control the clock and the possessions a little bit, but she kept working in there. But she really carried us in the first half.”

Sykes had 14 points while teammate Aurreeshae Hines wound up 11 points, three assists and two steals. Jeff guard Chelsea Lewis had game-highs in assists (four) and steals (four). Merriweather scored 18 points for Sacred Heart.

The Red Devils will travel to Columbus East on Saturday.

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