Classic in the Country

Newbies Redbirds and Trojans experience the joy of CitC in a game fitting of CitC classics

Loudonville and Tusky Valley wage a fantastic game in their inaugural venture to CitC

Monday morning opening games on day three at Classic in the Country have a way of bogging down at the girls high school basketball showcase, where it always seems to take day three a couple of shots of java to get things back into high gear.

That concept was right out the window for game 14 of the three-day event when Tuscarawas Valley and Loudonville staged yet another authentic thriller in a weekend full of them on Monday, Jan. 15 at the Reese Center in Berlin. Loudonville overcame a double-digit deficit late in the third quarter to down the Trojans 53-52 in a game that could have easily gone either way over the game’s final five minutes.

“It’s a pretty good story,” said Loudonville head coach Tyler Bates, whose team remained perfect at 14-0 this year.

In its first-ever invitation to the CitC, it was a fairytale way to write the script for the Redbirds. “I wasn’t too sure how it was going to end there for awhile, but I should never doubt my girls,” Bates said. “They have overcome so much adversity this year already. It shouldn’t surprise me to see us come back against a good team like that.”

Loudonville’s Rachel Weber got things going right off the bat with an and-one, and the two teams took the back-and-forth game to an 8-8 tie through the first period. The Redbirds then inched out to an 18-13 edge in the second period on Celeste Ryman’s drive to the hole, but then the Trojans started taking over, going on a 15-3 rampage over the quarter’s final four minutes as Jenna Franks, Boston McKinney and Jadyn Kuykendall allowed Tusky Valley’s guard play to dictate the flow of the game. It wasn’t until Emily Seboe’s two free throws to end the half that the Redbirds finally got something positive going, but the Trojans took a 28-23 lead into the locker room.

That was when Tusky Valley’s Kierrah Stewart began to do what she does best. Stewart is as a prototypical lunch-pail worker who just gets the job done, and her play in the second half put Tusky Valley in prime position to hand Loudonville its first loss of the year.

Stewart scored nine early second-half points that led to a 38-25 Tusky Valley lead. However, Ryman hit a couple of huge 3-pointers, the final one at the buzzer on a shake-and-bake move that drew the Redbirds to within 42-36 heading into the final frame.

When Ryman drained another trey and then squirted through three defenders for a score, Tusky Valley’s lead was down to a brittle single tally at 42-41. Stewart answered the bell inside and added two free throws to push the lead out to 46-41. Ryman then scored before Stewart hit Kuykendall with a perfect pass, and Loudonville stepped it up with its full-court press to turn things around.

“We didn’t handle things as well as we should have,” Tusky Valley head coach Matthew Ward said. “We figured they were going to eventually make a run on us, but I felt like we had a stretch where we just weren’t composed enough. Too many times we didn’t get shots because of turnovers, and we sent them to the line way too many times in the fourth quarter.”

Grace Vermilya scored six straight points to give Loudonville its first lead since early in the game at 49-48 with 2:33 to play. Loudonville forced another turnover, Ryman drove for a score and the Redbirds suddenly led 51-48.

Now it was crunch time, and as has happened so many times before, it would be Stewart stepping up. She scored inside, and after Ryman split two free throws, Stewart struck again from in the paint with 55 seconds to play to tie the score at 52. Loudonville ran a ton of time off the clock, only to have Weber get fouled in the paint with 11 seconds to play. She managed to sink the first charity toss to break the tie, and the Trojans scrambled down the floor. What ensued was action-packed chaos for 10 seconds as the ball went in and out of a number of players’ hands on both teams before it settled into the hands of Weber.

After she missed the front end of a two-shot foul with two-tenths of a second to play, Bates called time-out and asked officials if the Trojans had time to do anything but tip the ball. That was all Tusky Valley could do, so Bates told Weber to miss the second free throw on purpose, which she did, sending a line drive off the rim, and time expired.

“We talked as a team before we left, and we told the girls we don’t owe anybody anything as far as proving ourselves,” Bates said. “We know we are a good team, and we just wanted to come here and compete against another really good team. Obviously you want to win, but when you play a good team like that, they can get you out of your comfort zone, and that was what Tusky Valley did today.”

Bates said seeing his younger kids come up big this game should really enhance their depth and confidence as they move forward.

He said the bench was in it the entire game, and while they wanted to speed up the tempo, Tusky Valley did a good job of making life miserable on them.

The Redbirds also had two aces in the hole at the Classic showdown. One, Bates said they knew Ryman and Seboe hadn’t done much offensively, and that would change. The other was an incredible following from Loudonville. The Redbirds faithful turned out in force to root on their team, and it paid off.

“The support we have gotten from the community this year is incredible,” Bates said. “We go to road games, and it’s like a home game. We were nervous about coming here. Would we have a good showing? Redbird Nation should be extremely proud today. The number of people who showed up for this was just remarkable, and I know our players fed off of their energy.”

Ryman led the Redbirds with 20 points and six assists while Seboe posted a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Stewart led all scorers with 21 points and eight rebounds, going about the game with her “business-as-usual” style of play.

“She is the heart of our team,” Ward said of Stewart. “She is a strong kid, a bulldog out there, and sometimes we probably need to get her more opportunities than we do. Maybe that is stupid coaching, but she gets the ball all over the floor and does the dirty work we need.”

The Trojans, now 9-2 and leading the Inter-Valley Conference North Division, hasn’t been challenged in many of their games, so this was one that Ward said they had been looking forward to all season. As a first-time participant in Classic in the Country, they wanted to relish the event, win or lose.

“We haven’t had too many close games this year, and we knew this was going to be a battle,” Ward said. “Obviously we wanted to kick the second half of the year off with a big win, and this is still a great way for us to springboard into the second half of the year because our young kids got a great chance to grow up in an experience like this. This is pretty phenomenal.”

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