ST. MARYS — Two points.
That was all St. Marys scored on New Knoxville in the first quarter as the Ranger defense paved the way to a 53-35 win against their Auglaize County neighbors in a non league affair Saturday.
From the opening tip, the Rangers defense was all over the Roughriders and forced numerous turnovers that resulted in easy transition buckets that enabled New Knoxville to break out to a 17-2 leader after the first period.
In those eight minutes, St. Marys had six turnovers and was a tough 1-for-10 from the field.
“I thought we beat them down the floor,” New Knoxville head coach Tim Hegemier said. “We got a lot of layups out of that and things were clicking for us finally, better than Thursday (in a 51-44 victory against Marion Local).”
Hegemier added that they had a couple of defensive breakdowns but not enough to seriously hurt the Rangers’ efforts.
“With New Knoxville you know what you are going to get,” St. Marys head coach Jon Burke said. “They just execute very well. Defensively, you know you are coming up against a physical man-to-man defense and offensively you are coming up against a flex offense and a motion zone offense so scouting wise it is just a matter if you can execute and that is a very tough defense and when we got the ball in the paint we got it blocked or deflected and didn’t finish and a big part of that was their physicality in the paint that they had.”
The Riders also struggled from the outside, hitting 3 of 14 from behind the 3-point arc.
“I think that hurt us tonight,” Burke said. “Early in the game I thought we had some pretty good looks but later in the game we were throwing up some shots for threes to try and come back in the game. Not hitting any outside shots for us is going to to hurt us. We are more of a guard based team.”
For the rest of the game, the Roughriders were playing catch-up and despite several attempts to dent that big lead, St. Marys never got within single digits of New Knoxville.
“In a game where two teams match up pretty well I think a couple of possessions can make a difference,” Burke said. “We had some runs but not as many as New Knoxville did on us so when you miss shots and they get out on in transition and that is what we want to do to other teams and tonight they did that better than us.”
St. Marys did outscore the Rangers 15-5 in the second period to cut the lead to 10, 27-17 but the Rangers responded by outscoring the Riders 18-7 in the third quarter to effectively put the game away. Perhaps the proverbial nail in the coffin came when Leffel nailed a desperation two-handed heave at the basket from 35-feet that went in as the buzzer sounded to end the period.
The win keeps the Rangers unbeaten at 3-0 and St. Marys suffers its first defeat of the season and slips to 2-1.
Ranger Morgan Leffel, who had nine first quarter points to spearhead the early offensive surge, finished with a game-high 20 points. Ellie Gabel scored 12 points and Avery Henschen chipped in 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
For St. Marys, junior standout Kendall Dieringer was the lone Rider in double digits with 12 points, however, she had only two points in the second half.