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NEW KNOXVILLE — New Knoxville heads into one of the biggest games of its season on a winning streak spanning six weeks that has kept the Rangers' hopes of a Midwest Athletic Conference title and top-seeding in the Division IV sectional tournament going strong.
The Ranger girls basketball team won its eighth straight game with a 47-25 win over St. Marys at The Barn on Tuesday, just two days before a Midwest Athletic Conference showdown against state-ranked Fort Recovery.
Sophomore forward Paige Lehman scored a game-high 15 points for New Knoxville.
The Rangers (12-2) appeared to be in a dogfight with their northernly neighbor through the first quarter before jetting past the Riders in the second.
St. Marys jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the opening minutes and a 12-9 lead after one quarter.
“We came out in the first quarter and kind of had a fire in our eyes,” St. Marys head coach Kelly Fulmer said. “We had some hustle going for us, we made some shots we don’t normally make and we kept it close.”
If New Knoxville was looking ahead to its showdown with the Indians at the Fort Site on Thursday, New Knoxville head coach Tim Hegemier’s timeout in the first quarter quickly refocused his team on the Riders.
“They knew I wasn’t happy after the first quarter,” Hegemier said.
New Knoxville’s 7-0 run briefly put the Rangers ahead before St. Marys’ Molly Albert’s three-pointer and a Reagan Aller basket put the Riders up by three after eight minutes of play.
Things then got rough for the Riders. Like against Celina last Thursday when they scored just two points after a strong first period, the second quarter proved to be St. Marys’ downfall.
The Roughriders (2-12) went scoreless in the second quarter and hit just one shot from the floor in the third quarter. That 16 minute period with only four points allowed New Knoxville to build a 39-16 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“It slowed down for us and gave New Knoxville a chance to step ahead,” Fulmer said.
There’s no time to savor this eight-game run for the Rangers with a trip to Fort Recovery looming.
“I guess it’s one of those games you have to put in the bag and go on,” Hegemier said.
New Knoxville’s hopes of a MAC title will likely require a win on Thursday against Fort Recovery and then a little help from those same Indians early next month. The Rangers (5-1 in the MAC) and Fort Recovery (4-1 in the MAC) both are chasing league unbeaten Marion Local — a team Fort Recovery still has left on the schedule on Feb. 9.
St. Marys shot 9-for-41 (21.9 percent) from the floor for the game despite a 4-for-9 night from beyond the three-point arc.
The New Knoxville defense forced 23 St. Marys turnovers.
“They’ve got some size, they’re physical, they’re in your face,” Fulmer said of a Ranger defense giving up just 34.5 points per game.
Molly Albert knocked down three 3-point shots for a team-high nine points. Reagan Aller added seven points.
New Knoxville’s second-leading scorer coming into the game, Haley Horstman, was held to two free throws, but the rest of the Rangers picked up the slack. Freshman Meg Reineke added nine points and senior forward Tiana Heidt scored eight points. Kalyn Shroer knocked down three jumpers for six points.
St. Marys outscored New Knoxville, 9-8, in the fourth quarter.
The Roughriders host Defiance (1-10, 0-5 WBL) on Thursday night. Both teams are in search of their first Western Buckeye League win.
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