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by Michael Leonard | Sports Editor
Macedonia -- The Tallmadge girls basketball team had better get used to playing at the gymnasium at Nordonia High School in Macedonia.
This is the place where the Lady Blue Devils will play their Division II district tournament games.
With an eye toward the Feb. 3 tournament draw, Tallmadge took on Nordonia Jan. 31.
If the Lady Blue Devils play they way they did in stretches against the Knights, their playoff time at Nordonia might be short-lived.
In a physical, disjointed affair, Tallmadge hit just enough free throws down the stretch to hang on for a 41-34 win.
Tallmadge also scored a 55-44 win over Medina Highland Jan. 26 at home.
The Lady Blue Devils moved to 13-4 overall and 8-3 in the Suburban League as of press time. Nordonia dropped to 7-13 overall and 3-8 in the league.
Tallmadge head coach Bill Johnson admitted the game was anything but a thing of beauty.
"It was a very physical game," he said. "Give Nordonia a lot of credit. They were very much the aggressor. We've overcome adversity all year and I think we did again [Jan. 31] in the second half. We found a way to get it done."
Nordonia head coach Mike Griffen said the level of physicality from the Lady Knights was deliberate.
"We've been working with our JV [junior varsity] boys team to instill that physical nature," Griffen said. "We got a burned a couple times on backdoor cuts. We were ready for that, but sometimes, you have to realize that Tallmadge guard Kelsey Rice is going to get her points no matter what you do."
"I couldn't be prouder of the girls. We're only 3-8 in the league, but we just keep fighting."
Nordonia hit Tallmadge with a dose of its own medicine in the first half as the Lady Knights went into a full-court press from the opening jump.
The Lady Blue Devils got a big scare with 5 minutes, 50 left in the first quarter when point guard Kelsey Rice went down after a collision at midcourt.
Rice returned a few minutes later, but Tallmadge looked disjointed for the rest of the half.
The game was tied at 20 at halftime with neither team's offense mustering much continuity.
Although the Lady Blue Devils took the lead in the period, it was never bigger than four points in the third quarter.
Up just 28-26 after three quarters, Tallmadge suffered another blow early in the fourth quarter when Demi DeLorenzo went down with a knee injury on the first possession of the fourth quarter.
But DeLorenzo returned later in the game.
While DeLorenzo was down, Nordonia's Nataly Ciocca nailed a three-pointer to give Nordonia its only lead of the second half at 29-28.
However, a pair of layups from Rice and forward Mary Ryan gave Tallmadge the lead back.
Foul shots proved the difference down the stretch as the Lady Blue Devils went 13-of-24 from the line, including 7-of-12 in the fourth quarter.
After a scramble for the ball with 1:09 left, Tallmadge forward Leah Makuch nailed both ends of a one and one to make it 36-32.
The Lady Blue Devils partially blocked a three-pointer on Nordonia's next possession. Then, Kirsten Lightel drew a foul and scored her only points on both ends of a one and one.
When Hallie Allen split two free throws with 17.9 seconds left, Nordonia's fate was sealed as it became a three-possession affair.
Ryan led the Lady Blue Devils with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Rice added 11 points.
Nordonia was led by with forward Morgan Mitchell with nine points.
Against the Hornets, Tallmadge got a huge game from Makuch, who put up a career-high 24 points and 11 rebounds. Rice was her usual frantic self, scoring nine points and pulling down 13 rebounds.
The Lady Blue Devils were set to play its final home game of the season Feb. 2 against Wadsworth. Results were not available at press time.
Johnson said his team might have been looking ahead in the schedule a bit.
"That's another thing that may had got us tonight," Johnson said. "Thursday-Saturday stretches are tough, especially with Wadsworth coming up."
The Blue Devils are scheduled to return to action Feb. 6 at Green. Varsity tip time is set for 7:30 p.m.