LEXINGTON TWP. — In recent years, there are three things that many consider inevitable.
That would be death, taxes and … well, a postseason showdown between the Tallmadge and Marlington girls basketball teams.
Those two squads butted heads for the third consecutive year in an all-or-nothing matchup.
Whether this trend continues is anyone’s guess. It’s a safe bet the Blue Devils hope so.
Let’s just say they have an uncanny knack for breaking their Stark County frenemies’ hearts.
In a game that wasn't decided until the final minutes, Tallmadge squeezed out a 36-29 win over the host Marlington Dukes Thursday night in a Uniontown Division II sectional final contest Thursday in Lexington Township.
With the win, the Blue Devils are scheduled to face Canal Fulton Northwest in a district semifinal contest next Wednesday at Lake High School in Uniontown. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
With the win, the sixth-seeded Blue Devils upped their record to 15-9, while third-seeded Marlington bows out with a mark of 17-6.
"I think both teams played really hard," Tallmadge first-year head coach Brett Bickar said. "They [the Dukes] are a good, well-coached team and we knew what to expect from them as far as their offensive sets.
"We played a little sloppy and missed some shots we generally make and we turned the ball over, but we were playing a very good team."
They played a familiar team too.
The Blue Devils ended Marlington’s 2018-19 season with a 49-47 win in a sectional contest at James O. Maddox Court. That triumph was payback from the previous winter when the Dukes routed Tallmadge 57-39 to reach district play in 2018.
On Thursday, the Blue Devils sent Marlington packing, thanks to their defense.
"Our defense was as good as it has been all year," Bickar said. "We matched up really well with their shooters and we rebounded pretty well."
Tallmadge held a huge advantage on the boards as it outrebounded the Dukes 45-30, including 17 on the offensive end.
"We knew coming in that we could have a little bit of an advantage with a couple of our bigs and our activity on defense," Bickar said. "We mostly have four good rebounders on the court all the time. I think that was the difference in the game."
What made Tallmadge’s win even more satisfying was it took place without the usual theatrics of its top player, Lizzie Bickar.
The senior point guard finished with just 11 points as she made two 3-pointers and converted five of her six shots from the free throw line.
"I thought they did a really good job of identifying where she was at all the time," Coach Bickar said. "They [the Dukes] do a really good job of being active on defense.
"We were not getting a lot of clean passes off, which we were getting a lot of open shots. She really had to work hard for everything and that is a credit to them. But when she is not shooting well, she does so much for our team. She also leads our team in assists and she rebounds really well."
Freshman Natalie Ries followed Brickar with eight points and senior Jill Catalano added seven. Sophomore post Addie Bowman finished with six points and was a menacing presence in the middle with four blocks and nine rebounds.
As for Marlington, putting points on the scoreboard proved to be a futile task due to the Blue Devils’ swarming defense.
Junior Allison Lacher led the Dukes with nine points and eight rebounds.
"I am very proud of what the girls have accomplished this year," Marlington head coach Mike Stadulis. "We didn’t play our best, but Tallmadge is a good team. I hate to lose our seniors because they have done some much for the program, but we have a lot to look forward to in the future.
"The girls played hard, but things didn’t go our way. We didn’t attack the basket hard enough and when we did have them we would let them off the hook."