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Ridge shows its ability in win

MINERAL RIDGE — For the Mineral Ridge Rams volleyball team, when they execute to their fullest and apply pressure, they are a difficult team to beat.

The Newton Falls Tigers found that out Monday night.

“I think we started off kind of blah and just stayed there and couldn’t get out of it,” Newton Falls coach Kristina Baker said. “We couldn’t fix the funk.”

Kate Lesko led the charge with eight kills and 13 digs. Danielle Aulet added 25 assists along with seven aces in their 3-0 sweep.

“She had a lot of offensive pressure,” said Mineral Ridge coach Ron Lesko in regards to his daughter. “Even balls that maybe were off the net, she still managed to still put a pretty good swing on the ball.”

That mix of defense and offensive is something the Rams (17-1) have improved on from early in the season and has added another dimension to an already strong team.

“Our blocking has really improved,” Lesko said. “The last two big matches we’ve played in, we’ve had multiple blocks when if you looked at us at the beginning of the year through the first quarter of the season. We might not have had five blocks, three blocks, two blocks. We might have had more blocks tonight than we did in the first six matches. We just weren’t a good blocking team.”

That came in handy in the opening set as Mineral Ridge opened a 7-0 advantage to coast to a 25-10 win despite the Tigers (12-5) getting it within four at 9-5 and 11-7.

“When you have an opportunity and you can continue to pressure, that’s the way it has to go,” Lesko said. “It’s the name of the game, pressure, pressure, and more pressure. When you jump out in front like that, just keep the pressure, whether it’s serving or attacking.”

Still, the Tigers tried to make a game of it and stayed with a few points of the Rams throughout the second set but again fell behind by as much as eight only to close it 23-19 before watching Mineral close out the set to win 25-20.

“I told our girls, I don’t know if we got their best punch yet,” Lesko said. “I said, ‘I’m waiting.’ With the quality wins that they’ve had, I’m waiting for them to come out and come at us. We have to be ready. The tide can turn. They can steal momentum. It can shift the whole night. You can end with a different outcome.”

“We had our moments,” Baker said. “We had some opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of.”

It was a perplexing performance by a team that knocked off unbeaten Badger, who was ranked 10th in Division IV, just six days ago. The Tigers featured three players (Elizabeth Barreca, Breeana Hutson, and Courtney Hankins) with more than 100-plus kills each.

“I knew they were good coming in,” Lesko said. “They have quality players it’s just us being able to maintain pressure. Of course, we have some pretty good defensive players. They did rip a couple of balls, but we were able to handle the ball and execute.”

Hankins led Newton Falls with six kills with Allison Sembach adding 12 assists.

The Tigers took their only lead in the third set at 1-0 before the Rams ripped off the next 12 points en route to a 25-10 win to close out the sweep.

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