by Michael Leonard | Sports Editor
Tallmadge -- Bill Johnson knew his team was facing two different levels of competition last week.
On Dec. 15, the Tallmadge girls basketball team improved its season-opening win streak to six games with a 58-38 rout of Nordonia.
However, the Lady Blue Devils faced their biggest test of the season when it visited Suburban League rival Wadsworth Dec. 19.
The defending league champion Grizzlies rarely prove nice hosts and this game was no exception as Tallmadge suffered its first loss of the season 55-19.
Thus, the Lady Blue Devils' record stood at 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the Suburban League as of press time.
Despite having only seven varsity players available Dec. 15, Tallmadge overpowered the Knights, who proved both turnover and foul-prone throughout the game.
Tallmadge took a 9-0 lead to start the game and never really looked back. Johnson said the win was the most comprehensive of the season thus far.
"The last two games, we've been able to put things together," Johnson said. "When we are able to finish plays in the half court and in transition, we're a good team. This is the one team in the league that we match up with size-wise."
Nordonia coach Mike Griffen said the biggest reason for the loss was simple.
"They outworked us," Griffen said. "I fully compliment Tallmadge's team. They brought a lot of energy tonight and we didn't."
Tallmadge's frenetic defense was its usual disruptive self, forcing 19 turnovers, including nine steals. However, Tallmadge also had a big edge in rebounding for the first time this season, beating Nordonia on the boards 37-23.
Those edges in hustle allowed Tallmadge to sprint out to a 9-0 lead. Although the Knights were able to rally a bit and cut the deficit to 13-9 after one quarter, that would be as close as Nordonia would get the rest of the way.
Tallmadge outscored Nordonia 15-6 in the second quarter to take a 28-15 lead and the deficit would remain in double digits the rest of the way.
"Our offense is designed to move and have the motion take care of itself," Griffen said. "We were a kind of stagnant tonight. If we stay calm under pressure, we can be a great team."
Tallmadge's starting forward duo of Mary Ryan and Leah Makuch each finished with double doubles. Makuch finish with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Ryan had 15 points and 13 boards.
Point guard Kelsey Rice was her usual self on both sides of the ball, finishing with seven points, nine assists and a bevy of steals.
The only dark spot in the game for Tallmadge was free-throw shooting, as the Blue Devils went 10-of-25.
Johnson said he was hopeful to get guard Kirsten Lightel back in time for Tallmadge's showdown with Wadsworth Dec. 19.
"It's nice to be going into that game 6-0, but they're going to be even more prepared for us now," Johnson said. "We're playing very well right now. Hopefully, having Kirsten back will only help us."
Lightel was available against the Grizzlies, but her presence couldn't save Tallmadge from its first loss of the season.
Wadsworth simply dominated the Blue Devils, opening leads of 13-4 after one quarter and 30-12 at halftime.
The Grizzlies dominated Tallmadge on the boards, finishing with a 36-23 edge. Perhaps more decisive was the fact Tallmadge was beaten at its own game, committing 29 turnovers, while forcing only 13.
Lightel finished as Tallmadge leading scorer -- but only finished with five points.
Wadsworth was led by 16 from Rachel Goddard.
Tallmadge was set to travel to Jackson-Milton Dec. 22, but results were not available at press time.
The Blue Devils is scheduled to host the Tallmadge Holiday Invitational Dec. 27 and 28. The Blue Devils are set to play Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy Dec. 27 at 7:30 p.m.