by Michael Leonard | Sports Editor
Mogadore -- The Tallmadge girls basketball team opened the final week of the regular season with a bit of a backyard rivalry game, traveling to face its small neighbor to the south Feb. 11.
Mogadore gave its neighbors to the north a tough fight, but the Lady Blue Devils made just enough shots to pull out a 44-41 win.
Tallmadge then scored another close win Feb. 13 at Cloverleaf, defeating the Colts 52-50.
The Lady Blue Devils finished the regular season at 16-6 overall and 9-5 in the Suburban League. Tallmadge finished tied with Revere for second in the league.
Lady Blue Devils head coach Bill Johnson said the game against the Lady Wildcats was tougher for his team than it should have been.
"We didn't do a lot of things that we usually do on defense," Johnson said. "Mogadore was patient in their offense and they made shots. In the first half, they outworked us. That can't happen on the road."
Lady Wildcats head coach Tom Pollock said the game was a solid one for his team.
"We didn't play well in our last game against Springfield, so we challenged them," he said. "I'm very happy with the effort. We went man-to-man early in the game."
While Mogadore did a better job on the boards early on, it was Tallmadge forward Leah Makuch who did the damage.
Makuch scored eight of her game-high 14 points in the first quarter, establishing the lead for the Lady Blue Devils.
The Lady Wildcats never were more than six points off the pace. Mogadore's ball-control motion offense limited Tallmadge's chances.
"I think the whole team stepped up," Pollock said.
Down 22-16 at halftime, the Lady Wildcats opened the second half on runs of 5-0 and 11-4 to take a 27-26 lead.
It was guard Brianne Porter who led the charge, scoring of seven of her nine points in the quarter, including two three-pointers.
Mogadore outscored the Lady Blue Devils 18-11 to take the lead 34-33 after three quarters.
Fouls didn't play a role until the final quarter when Tallmadge took a bunch of trips to the line. The Lady Blue Devils finished 9-of-13 from the charity stripe, compared to 4-of-7 for the Lady Wildcats.
Both teams played ball possession in the final two minutes, setting up a late finish.
Mogadore's Mackenzie Williams hit a putback layup with 32 seconds left to give the Lady Wildcats the lead.
That's when Tallmadge point guard Kelsey Rice made a pair of brilliant plays on both sides of the court.
First, Rice used a deceptive backdoor cut to score an uncontested layup with 18.5 seconds left to make it 42-41.
On the ensuing Mogadore possession, Rice stole the ball near the elbow.
After Johnson called time-out with 4.2 seconds left, Williams fouled out to send Makuch to the line.
Makuch calmly drained two free throws to make it 44-41 with 3.3 seconds left.
The Lady Wildcats' last chance came when Ashley Barker heaved a three-quarter court as time expired, but the shot fell short.
"In the end, we just made one more play than Mogadore did," Johnson said. "We're getting good shots, but they're just not falling. Shots are contagious, so when they start falling for us, it will be good."
Barker and Naomi Pollock each had 10 points for Mogadore.
Along with Makuch's 14 points and seven rebounds, the Lady Blue Devils got nine points from Rice and eight from guard Demi DeLorenzo.
Johnson's prediction regarding the shots falling in bunches proved accurate as Tallmadge went 7-of-14 from three-point land against Cloverleaf.
The Lady Blue Devils took a 12-7 lead after one quarter and a 31-26 lead at halftime.
Rice had another clutch performance, making a pair of free throws with 9.6 seconds left to give Tallmadge a 52-50 lead. Cloverleaf made a layup at the buzzer, but the Blue Devils escaped with the win.
Cloverleaf dominated the boards 33-20, but the Lady Blue Devils won the turnover battle, forcing 16.
Makuch finished with a game-high 17 points, including 10 free throws, while Rice added 10 points, seven rebounds and six steals. Hallie Allen added nine points on three trifectas.
"I am really proud of the way the girls finished the regular season," Johnson said. "We didn't always play the best basketball, but they battled every game and did the things you have to do to win games.
"Demi DeLorenzo's toughness really sparked us. You can tell she just knows how
to compete and it rubs off on everyone."
With the regular season over, Tallmadge is scheduled to open the Division II postseason Feb. 20 vs. Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy. Tip time at Nordonia High School is set for 7:30 p.m.