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Basketball

Ringgold girts basketball uses defense, height advantage to upset Elizabeth Forward

| Monday, Jan. 5, 2015, 11:36 p.m.

Moments before Ringgold faced Elizabeth Forward in a key Section 4-AAA girls basketball clash, Rams coach Laura Grimm huddled her players together and told them, “We need this game.”

Her players got the message. Ringgold built a commanding lead and held on to upset host Elizabeth Forward, 56-44.

The Rams raced to a 15-4 lead by the end of the first quarter and took a 27-17 lead at halftime thanks to a strong defensive showing in which Ringgold used its height advantage to fluster the Warriors into their worst start of the season.

“This is a team we thought we matched up really well with,” said Grimm. “I knew we could battle with them, but I never expected to come out the way we did. They came out with no fear, just guns blazing.

“Certainly, that's what won us that game was our start.”

Marlena Schmidt, a 6-foot-6 West Virginia recruit, was a force in the middle. She blocked eight shots and forced the Warriors offense to abandon its slashing style and move out to the perimeter.

“I definitely think that Marlena Schmidt, her presence on the court, gave us a hard time,” Warriors coach Krystal Gibbs said. “We are a team that likes to drive and penetrate, and she was blocking shots left and right.”

Schmidt also had 12 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore Johnna Mocniak added 12 rebounds to help limit the Warriors' second-chance opportunities.

“That was one of our keys: to keep them out of the middle,” Grimm said. “We were really, really careful to keep them out on the perimeter.”

Freshman Ashley Briscoe provided the offense with a team-best 19 points to go with 12 rebounds.

“I told her before the game in our locker room that she was our X-factor,” said Grimm. “I said, ‘The way you play tonight will determine whether we win or lose.' Now, that's a lot of pressure to put on a freshman, but she played amazing.”

Point guard Bailey Cooper chipped in 13 points for Ringgold (5-6, 3-2), which snapped a three-game losing streak.

After falling behind through three quarters, Elizabeth Forward (9-3, 3-1) made things interesting in the fourth. The Warriors' press forced five consecutive Ringgold turnovers that led to a 10-run for Elizabeth Forward in the final quarter.

Olivia Barkley scored 12 of her game-high 21 points in the fourth. She also had five steals in the game.

“My kids, they never give up,” said Gibbs. “They truly play with all of their heart and all of their soul. That's what our basketball program is about. We play with heart.”

Grimm was happy to get the victory, although she would have preferred less of a nail-biter.

“I lost five years off of my life in that game tonight,” Grimm said. “That clock couldn't tick fast enough.”

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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