by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
Ontario -- They shed a few tears and the looks on their faces showed no signs of a pleasant mood.
Regardless, the legacy of Tallmadge senior basketball players Kelsey Rice, Mary Ryan and Kirsten Lightel have officially been etched in stone.
"Those girls won a district title and no one can ever take that away," Lady Blue Devils' fourth-year head coach Bill Johnson said. "What those three did for Tallmadge will live on forever."
Unfortunately for Johnson and his three senior standouts, the era is over.
Tallmadge's stellar season came to an end after losing a convincing 58-38 decision to Bellevue March 4. The Division II regional semifinal contest took place at Ontario High School.
With the loss, the Lady Blue Devils, who reached regional play for the first time since the 1998-99 team advanced to the state semifinals, finished 17-9 on the season.
The Lady Red, who made its first regional appearance since 2003, improved to 22-4.
It didn't take long to see that Tallmadge was going to have a difficult night.
Bellevue, which attacked at will on offense and caused all kinds of havoc with its full-court pressure, stormed out to a 20-4 lead.
The Lady Blue Devils appeared to be a bit tentative and the Lady Red took advantage in every way possible.
Bellevue made three 3-pointers in the first quarter. When a shot was missed, the taller, quicker Lady Red players grabbed just about every rebound and every loose ball.
Bellevue had a 35-25 edge on the glass and forced 15 turnovers. The Lady Red also made 23 of 51 shots from the floor, while Tallmadge converted just 17 of 42.
"Our biggest problem was rebounding the basketball," Johnson said. "We just couldn't get in the right position. They [the Lady Red] did a nice job on the boards. That led to a lot of easy scores."
The Lady Blue Devils also had trouble keeping their starters on the court.
Ryan, a forward, and Lightel, a guard, picked up two fouls in the first quarter and Lightel, who ended up fouling out in the fourth quarter, picked up a third early in the second period.
"It was frustrating," Ryan said. "I tried to do everything I could to stay on the court."
Bellevue led by as many as 20 (36-16) late in the second quarter, but the Lady Blue Devils made a little bit of a push in the third quarter.
Tallmadge outscored the Lady Red 15-13 in the period. It actually could have been better. But Rice's 3-pointer hit the back of the iron as time expired.
"At halftime, we talked about getting a little here and a little there," Johnson said. "We put some pressure on them [the Lady Red] and they were not expecting that. We just wanted to play as hard as we could."
Unfortunately, hard work wasn't enough against Bellevue, which had the ability to find the open player throughout the evening. Still, though, the Lady Blue Devils refused to go down without a fight.
"We believed in our team the whole time," Rice said.
Forward Makala Daniel led Bellevue with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Guards Whitney Schalk and Carly Santoro each added 12 points for the Lady Red.
Santoro also had four steals.
Ryan led Tallmadge with 13 points.
It was the final game for Ryan, Rice and senior guard Kirsten Lightel.
Rice missed six of her eight shots, but as always, she contributed in a plethora of other ways. She had a team-high nine rebounds to go along with five assists, three blocked shots and two steals.
In the end, though, the Lady Devils' lack of offensive firepower proved to be the difference.
"They [the Lady Red] hit some shots we didn't expect them to make," Johnson said. "I think that deflated us a little. I don't think turnovers were an issue. We just couldn't make shots."
As for Rice, Ryan and Lightel, they plan to move on to bigger and better things. All three young ladies are ranked in the top 20 in their class and Lightel is the ace pitcher on the softball team.
But make no mistake about it, they will certainly miss playing together on the hardwood. Nine years of seeing each other isn't exactly easy to forget.
"That's how we first became friends," Ryan said. "It hurts right now. But at some point, we realize that getting this far is a moment we will never forget."