by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
It had been an up-and-down December for the Tallmadge girls basketball team.
Fortunately for the Lady Blue Devils, they sure knew how to put the finishing touches on 2013.
Tallmadge capped off the year with a pair of wins in Columbus. The Lady Blue Devils earned a 62-55 victory over Columbus Brookhaven Dec. 28 after posting a 49-30 win over host Columbus Thomas Worthington Dec. 27.
Tallmadge (7-3) entered 2014 on a three-game winning streak after dropping its last two league games.
"Our trip to Columbus was great for our players and taking home two wins with it made it even that much better," Lady Blue Devils head coach Bill Johnson said.
Against Brookhaven, the game was tied at 18 after one quarter of play. Tallmadge's defense put down the clamps in the second period and took a 31-24 lead at halftime.
Brookhaven managed to make nine three-pointers against the Lady Blue Devils. But Tallmadge's seniors took control and led the Lady Blue Devils to the win.
"The game was fast and up and down," Johnson said. "Brookhaven has a lot of athletic guards that can get to the rim and finish, but on this night, they also showed they could shoot it.
"We were a little worried how we would start after spending the day at the mall and watching a movie. But that is a testament to our seniors and their mentality that we came out with great intensity and effort."
Senior forward Mary Ryan had a huge game for Tallmadge.
She finished with a team-high 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting and added seven rebounds. Johnson also was pleased with the play of his emerging freshman guard.
"Mary made some big shots for us," he said. "Whenever we needed a bucket to right the ship, Mary hit it.
"We also got a big contribution from freshman Brin Stralka. She made two huge threes for us. You can tell she is getting a lot more comfortable at the varsity level and is earning more time with every game."
Junior forward Joanna Catalano had 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting for the Lady Blue Devils. Junior forward Aliviah Chaplin provided the blue-collar work for Tallmadge that certainly wasn't ignored by her coach.
"Joanna was a big factor in the second quarter when we outscored them 13-6," Johnson said. "She really did a nice job of finishing plays. Aliviah, who doesn't really show up often in the box score, also did a really nice job for us on the glass. She never misses a box out and her effort is outstanding."
And of course, the Lady Blue Devils had senior point guard Kelsey Rice on their side.
Rice had her usual do-everything game with 13 assists, 11 rebounds, seven points and three blocked shots. She also committed just one turnover.
"Kelsey had another outstanding game," Johnson said.
The contest with Thomas Worthington was a much different pace from the game against Brookhaven.
Tallmadge took an 11-5 lead into the second quarter and was up 21-11 at halftime.
"Our first game was more of a slow and methodical game," Johnson said. "We defended them very well and really tried to make it hard for their guards to get in the paint."
The Lady Blue Devils were able to take control when Thomas Worthington's 6-foot-1 post player Jenna Anderson got in foul trouble.
"Jenna is their main scorer and a very good player," Johnson said. "She got in foul trouble early and it really allowed our game plan to work that much more effectively.
"Mary Ryan did a good job of attacking her on the offensive end and making her defend, which got her in foul trouble."
Tallmadge didn't have much trouble getting stops on the defensive end. And when they got stops, the Lady Blue Devils usually got easy buckets on the other end.
"Kelsey Rice and [freshman guard] Olivia Ayres did a good job of getting out in transition and distributing the ball for easy scores for others," Johnson said.
But the key to this win was the play of senior guard Kirsten Lightel, who made five three-pointers and finished with a team-high 17 points.
"We don't win this game without the shooting of Kirsten," Johnson said. "She give us such a valuable weapon on the outside and she seems to be really heating up as the season goes on."
Ryan finished with 10 points and Ayres and Catalano each scored eight points. Rice was everywhere again with 10 assists, nine rebounds and five blocks.
"We got great contributions from all seven of our varsity rotation players in one of the two games," Johnson said. "When it comes down to it, you have to look at the senior class and their leadership as to why we came home with two wins.
"We have a really good group of kids that play the game right and don't know how to do anything but compete to win games. This is definitely something we can build on with tough Suburban League games coming up."
The Lady Blue Devils were scheduled to host Suburban League rival Green Jan. 4. Results were not available at press time.
They are set to visit Rootstown Jan. 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Lodi for a league showdown with Cloverleaf Jan. 11 at 2:30 p.m.