LAKE TWP.: Coach Bill Johnson and his Tallmadge Blue Devils girls basketball team have been pointing to this district tournament for four years.
Led by seniors Kelsey Rice and Mary Ryan, the Blue Devils defeated Kenmore 61-42 in a Division II district semifinal at Lake High School on Monday night.
“Four years ago we came in and said, ‘We’re changing this program,’?” Johnson said. “We’re going to make this a championship-caliber program, and it’s taken four years. But we get a chance Friday night, and it’s pretty exciting.”
Tallmadge (16-8), aiming for its first district title since 1999, will play either Archbishop Hoban or Norton for the district championship at 7 p.m. Friday at Lake.
The Blue Devils blitzed the Cardinals at the start of the third quarter and were able to coast home in the final period, leading by as many as 24 points. After leading 23-17 at the half, Tallmadge outscored Kenmore 21-10 in a decisive third quarter.
“We challenged them at halftime to play our game,” Johnson said. “I know it’s a different court and a district game, but don’t be nervous, just play and have fun, and that’s what we do.”
Ryan, a 5-foot-9 forward, was a force around the basket, scoring 18 points, sinking 6-of-7 free throws, and grabbing four rebounds.
“We went to Mary early in the second half, and she took over just like she did against Fairless,” Johnson said.
Ryan had 30 points in a sectional win over the Falcons.
Rice, a 5-foot-9 point guard, did a little bit of everything for her team, collecting 14 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals.
“We go as she goes,” Johnson said about Rice. “It’s Kelsey that’s making that next pass. It’s Kelsey that’s getting that rebound we need. When we need to make a play, we look to Kelsey, and it’s been like that for four years.”
Midway through the third quarter, Rice made an athletic block on Kenmore’s Sarah Taylor and then drilled a 3-point shot from the left corner to give the Blue Devils a 37-25 lead.
Tallmadge senior Kirsten Lightel’s 3-pointer ignited a 9-0 run, which made it 46-27 and removed any doubt.
Lightel and junior Joanna Catalano each had 10 points for the Blue Devils.
According to Johnson, Ryan, Rice and Lightel rank among the top 20 academic students in the Class of 2014.
Senior Whiaunna Jeffries led Kenmore (16-9) with 15 points. Sophomore Q’deare Dix scored 13 points and senior Marshae Smith added eight for the Cardinals.
It was back and forth during the first quarter and the Blue Devils led 12-11 after eight minutes on a three-point play by Rice.
Kenmore relied on Jeffries’ ability to snare offensive rebounds and score. Jeffries had eight points in the opening quarter including three put-back goals.
Coach Yontami Jones’ Cardinals struggled from the floor in the second quarter, sinking just 1-of-11 field-goal attempts.
Tallmadge took a 19-15 lead on Catalano’s layup on a feed from freshman Olivia Ayres. Ayres then had a steal and lay-in to make it 21-15.
After Taylor sank two free throws for Kenmore, Rice found Ryan for a layup and the Blue Devils led 23-17 at half.
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