TALLMADGE — It won’t be long when the Tallmadge and Cuyahoga Falls girls basketball teams play each other twice during the winter.
If the outcome is anything like last Saturday, the Blue Devils certainly won’t mind.
Not at all, as a matter of fact.
Host Tallmadge cruised to a 46-31 victory over Cuyahoga Falls at James O. Maddox Court, The Black Tigers, who make their home in the bigger-school Suburban League National Conference, will switch to the smaller-school American Conference when the fall season begins in 2021.
Such a move might be a delightful one for Falls, which has enjoyed much success in recent years. That success included its rugged National Conference schedule.
On Saturday, the Black Tigers got a taste of what life will be like for them against their soon-to-be-new rivals.
They just hope it won’t be like this all the time.
The Blue Devils (13-8) dominated after halftime as Falls’ offense mysteriously disappeared in the final 16 minutes. Tallmadge outscored the Black Tigers 28-10 in the second half and stifled Falls for much of the afternoon.
"We called this a 50-50 game," Blue Devils’ first-year head coach Brett Bickar said. "They beat some teams that beat us. We just knew our energy level had to pick up after halftime and it did."
It did indeed.
Tallmadge bottled up Falls with its array of defenses and held Black Tigers’ star Chelsea Huffman in check for much of the game.
Although she finished with 16 points, nothing came easy for the standout senior guard who has scored more than 1,200 points during her career.
"We rotate back and forth with a 1-3-1 and a 2-3," Bickar said. "It’s what we like to do just to keep the other team off-balance. We always come into the game knowing who we want to stop and focus on.
"We didn’t really do anything special. The plan for her [Saturday] was to identify where she was at all times. She got a few easy looks and she knocked them down. She’s a really good player."
Huffman converted just 5-of-18 shots for the game. She missed nine of her 11 attempts in the second half.
"Overall, I thought we did a good job of knowing whether she was at the wing or in the corner or wherever," Bickar said. "When she did catch it, we usually got a good close-out in the area."
The Blue Devils’ star, on the other hand, was far more efficient.
Senior guard Lizzie Bickar scored 11 of her game-high 19 points in the second half. As usual, she did just about everything else too.
Lizzie Bickar added five steals and set up her teammates with her passing and ability to push the ball in transition. She did all of this despite some heavy-duty attention from several black and gold jerseys.
"They were doing it [face-guarding Lizzie Bickar] off and on throughout the game," Coach Bickar said. "When we didn’t get anything in transition, they tried to face-guard her a little bit. The other girls did a really good job of handling the ball and getting us into stuff."
The younger Bickar got plenty of help too.
Sophomore center Addie Bowman added 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks for Tallmadge, which has won three consecutive games.
While the second half was a masterpiece in every way imaginable, the first 16 minutes were a bit unnerving to Blue Devil fans.
Tallmadge had some turnover issues and let an early eight-point advantage disappear, thanks to some sloppiness with ball handling.
Fortunately for the Blue Devils, who honored Lizzie Bickar and senior classmates Jill Catalano and Rae’lya Sibley, their coach was able to take such issues in stride. That doesn’t mean he plans to take his players to a movie theater, though. Not before a game, at least.
"The first half, I don’t know if it was senior day or whatever, but it seemed like we had popcorn in the locker room before the game," Coach Bickar said. "We had butter all over our fingers."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_Gannett.