ThunderRidge cruises past Fruita Monument in tournament

Oh, that relentless pressure.

The ThunderRidge High School girls basketball team prides itself on making life as difficult as possible for opposing offenses.

The Grizzles (3-0 and ranked in the top five in Class 5A) gave Fruita Monument fits all night in Friday’s second round of the Wildcat Invitational.

ThunderRidge earned its second convincing victory in as many nights, defeating the Wildcats 79-37.

“This is where we want to be,” Wildcats coach Dan Schmalz said of the level of
ThunderRidge’s program.

The Wildcats turned the ball over four times against ThunderRidge’s relentless pressure before they could even get a shot off.  By that time, the Grizzlies were well on their way to a strong start, having taken an 8-0 lead.

“We were very nervous coming into the game,” Schmalz said of facing one of the top teams in the state.

The Grizzlies forced 22 first-half turnovers and only allowed Fruita Monument 15 shots. With scoring spurts of 15-2 and 14-5 in the second quarter, ThunderRidge raced to a 45-14 halftime lead.

“Everything we did was in a hurry,” Schmalz said.

Halftime adjustments resulted in Fruita Monument turning the ball over only four times in the second half, but the Wildcats still struggled to slow down the Grizzlies juggernaut as
ThunderRidge scored 34 points in the second half to pull away.

The Wildcats were at least able to consistently get into their offensive sets in the final two quarters.

“We kind of slowed down and de-frazzled,” said Wildcats senior post player Mary McGee, who had six points and 10 rebounds.

In effect, she said, they took a breath and got back to the fundamentals.

ThunderRidge got its usual balanced scoring effort, with Brooke Jelniker leading the way with 23 points. Rachel Messer added 20 points, eight rebounds and four steals.

The Grizzlies also got a solid effort from point guard Carly Needles, who scored seven points but had 18 assists, four steals and five rebounds and created much of the defensive havoc.

Taylor Johnson led the way for Fruita Monument with 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. Sarah Hensley added 10 points.

“We realized they’re good — not WNBA good, but we can play with them,” Schmalz said, “at least well enough not to turn the ball over 22 times (in a half).”

The game was a lesson learned for the Wildcats.

“They are a really fast team,” McGee said. “That’s where we want to be.”


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