Two seasons, two state runner-up finishes.
It’s safe to say the era of Tallmadge wheelchair basketball is off and running.
The Blue Devils concluded a stellar season with a 38-12 loss to Wooster in the state championship game Saturday at Massillon Washington High School.
With the loss, Tallmadge finished 10-4 on the season. The Blue Devils reached the title game by defeating Canton GlenOak 22-14 Saturday.
Tallmadge had to compete without one of its top players on the floor. Junior Brennan Heavilin was unable to participate in either game due to an illness.
In the championship game, Wooster, which won the state title for the second consecutive year, outscored the Blue Devils 12-2 in both the second and fourth quarters, respectively.
Wooster controlled the boards mainly because of the absence of Heavilin, who was the team’s leading rebounder during the winter.
"Wooster is a very talented team and you can't go up against them at anything less than full strength," Tallmadge first-year head coach Thomas Linder said. "We moved people to different spots to fill in, but that weakened us in other matchups."
In the end, the Blue Devils could hold their heads up. They didn’t back down despite facing a substantial margin.
"The kids never stopped battling no matter the deficit and actually won the third quarter," Linder said. "We just didn't have enough to keep up with Wooster."
In its semifinal contest, Tallmadge took control by outscoring GlenOak 20-6 in the middle two quarters.
"Early, I think we were a little out of sink with Brennan not in the lineup," Linder said. "We ran the offense and got great looks. We were just a little tight and couldn't knock anything down.
"As the game went on, we settled in and played at a better comfort level."
The Blue Devils turned up the defense after the slow start, thanks to their dynamic duo.
"Ashleigh Hughes and Cerafina Currey played lockdown defense the whole game," Linder said. "The defense kept us in the game until our offense came around.
"Zara Scaccio, Cory Michalec and Shateya Patton also were big factors on the defensive end."
What made the final result most pleasing for Linder was the team’s execution matched what they did during practice the previous days.
"We added a couple of new wrinkles at practice earlier in the week and the kids put the new stuff to use to help put the game away and put us in the finals," Linder said. "I am so proud of these guys when they ran what we worked on and did it so effectively.
"They won the game in spite of the fact we were without one of our top rebounders and scorers."
Isaiah Johnson led Tallmadge with 14 points. Hughes and Currey added four points apiece. Currey also made her presence on the glass.
Linder, who took over the team this winter, enjoyed every second of his time with the players this winter.
"It was a great year filled with outstanding team and individual accomplishments," he said. "The best part is challenging these kids and then watching them respond and do things that they weren't sure they could even do themselves.
"It was my privilege to be around them, to be able to enjoy the ride along side them. They have grown as people, teammates and peers. I hope they have learned at least half as much from me as I have learned from them.
"With the hard work came the success and that's a valuable lesson to learn. They won 10 of 14 games and they earned every one of those victories with their work ethic, attitude, focus and support of each other.
"I think one of the biggest things I'll take away from my first season is just how proud these players are to represent their school, their peers and their community.
"Unfortunately, I think with some of today's athletes, it's more about me than we. I'm thankful I got the opportunity to spend a season with a group of athletes who put others before themselves day in and day out while working for the common good of the team, that's special."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.