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by Michael Leonard | Sports Editor
Defense has been the calling card for the Tallmadge girls basketball team ever since Bill Johnson took over the program.
So when Johnson led his team back to his alma mater Jan. 16, he was interested in continuing that trend.
"When you look at it, it's fun to be coach in the gym that you played in," Johnson said. "But it's not about us coaches. It's about the players."
Those players showed off their prowess as the Lady Blue Devils handed Cuyahoga Falls a 42-28 loss Jan. 16 at Falls.
The win followed a 46-35 home victory over Cloverleaf Jan. 12 at home.
With the wins, Tallmadge's record improved to 10-3 overall and 5-2 in the Suburban League.
The Lady Black Tigers dropped to 2-12 on the season.
"I don't think we played our best game by any means," Johnson said.
"We were 16-of-44 [36 percent] from the field. It was out first road game in about a month, so that made it a bit of an adjustment."
Falls head coach Joe Nowak said his team was game, even in the loss.
"I thought from start to finish, I was really pleased with out effort," he said. "I thought we played as hard as we possibly could. One bad quarter got us, that being the second quarter. We just can't afford to have a stretch where we don't score."
The second quarter proved decisive.
With the game tied at seven after one quarter, the Lady Blue Devils outscored the Lady Black Tigers 14-2 in the second and were never threatened thereafter.
"We did a lot more trapping in the second quarter," Johnson said. "Making them have to pick it up a bit led to them throwing the ball to us."
"All year, they've played well on defense," Nowak said. "They were able to get a couple turnovers off that pressure. We just needed some shots to fall as well. It gave them some momentum. They're one of the best defensive teams we've seen all year."
Johnson praised the play of forward Mary Ryan, who returned to the Tallmadge lineup after missing the Cloverleaf game due to a concussion.
Ryan led Tallmadge with 12 points, while fellow forward Leah Makuch added 11 points.
"I really like where her game is at right now," Johnson said of Ryan, who shot 5-of-6 in the win. "This year, she's just playing the way she knows how to."
Falls was led by 12 points from Mary Messner, but no other Lady Black Tiger scored more than four points on the night.
The game against Cloverleaf started off in nightmarish fashion for the Lady Blue Devils.
"We got down 9-0 to start the game," Johnson said. "There was nothing going right. It was a credit to them that they were able to come back."
Tallmadge cut the deficit to 21-20 at halftime and then switched to a 1-3-1 zone in the second half. The move worked as the Lady Blue Devils outscored the Lady Colts 26-14 in the second half. In Ryan's absence, Hallie Allen stepped up her game, scoring 18 points. Junior Kirsten Lightel moved into the post and responded with 12 points.
Point guard Kelsey Rice was her usual frantic self, finishing with six points, eight steals and eight rebounds in the win.
After one trip through the Suburban League, Tallmadge's 5-2 record has them standing alone in second place in the league.
The Lady Blue Devils were set to return to league play against Revere Jan. 19 in Richfield. Results weren't available at press time.
Tallmadge is scheduled to entertain league rivals Copley Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Highland Jan. 26 at 2:30 p.m.