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Blue Jays pull away from feisty Ridge

NORTH JACKSON — The Jackson-Milton Blue Jays have a starting five consisting of one senior, two juniors, a sophomore and one freshman.

They have taken their bumps against perennial league powers McDonald and Western Reserve, but they’ve also etched out a squad that is nine deep and presents a lot of issues when everything is clicking.

With four of those five starters in double figures, the Blue Jays got past the Mineral Ridge Rams, 67-45, in a Mahoning County Athletic Conference matchup Thursday night.

“I keep on telling my kids, if we get five to six kids in double numbers then we can be competitive in every game,” Jackson-Milton coach Pat Keney said. “We’re more balanced. People go to shut you down, but we have four or five kids used to scoring.”

The Blue Jays (9-5, 7-3) used that to their advantage after an 8-8 first quarter with the Rams (0-8, 0-6).

Ava Darney led Jackson-Milton with 23 points. Chelsea Williams added 13 along with Kylie Wilson and Camryn Mitchell’s 12 points.

A 12-2 Blue Jay run to start the second quarter made it 20-10 just a few minutes in.

“They started popping in the middle of our zone,” Mineral Ridge coach Matthew Cluse said. “We didn’t play one of our bigs in that second quarter, and their bigs were able to control the middle against our zone. They got a lot of buckets inside.”

Still, the Rams shot well in the second quarter (6-of-9) and cut the lead back down to six, 20-14, after a Courtney Boyer bucket, but the Blue Jays responded with another run punctuated by a Mitchell 3 to make it 29-17.

All in all, Jackson-Milton outscored Mineral Ridge 24-13 on 10-of-21 shooting to make it 33-21 at the half.

“We played a good first quarter, real good and then the second quarter we just, we played hard, we just gave up the middle of the zone,” Cluse said. “I think it’s because we got tired in the backside. We weren’t getting to that spot fast enough. When you are only subbing one, it happens.”

In the third quarter, the Rams played the Blue Jays close for most of the quarter, with Candice Miller penetrating down the paint as she scored the first six points for Mineral Ridge.

Miller led the Rams with 23 points.

“She knocked down some big shots to answer them,” Cluse said. “She played probably the best she’s played all year for those three quarters.”

Miller’s sixth point of the quarter got Mineral Ridge within 37-27, but the Rams couldn’t get the necessary bucket to get it back within single digits as they trailed 42-31 heading into the fourth quarter.

“I think actually we outplayed them in that third quarter,” Cluse said. “We didn’t score. We didn’t finish. We had their backs against the wall in the third quarter. They knocked a couple outside shots down and there was really nothing there for them. They kind of bailed themselves out.”

Keney reminded his players before the game not to look past the Rams because of their record.

“Mineral Ridge came here to play,” Keney said. “They played hard. I told the girls despite their record, they are going to play us tough. They played hard against us every minute, so we just had to make some adjustments and keep on running them.”

That they did as the Blue Jays scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to open up a 50-31 lead, which was much needed as Miller got going again to cut the score back down to 54-43, with 3:29 left.

Again though, the Rams couldn’t find the shot needed to get within single figures as the Blue Jays finished out the game on a 13-2 run.

“We needed to take better shots, not come down and fire away because they got the rebound and ran right back up and scored,” Keney said.

Cluse felt playing catch-up all night eventually caught up to the Rams as they couldn’t find that one big shot to seize momentum fully.

“We had a lot of momentum and a lot of open looks,” he said. “We just missed some layups. We missed some momentum turners and that’s been our Achilles heel for a while. I think we absolutely outplayed them and out hustled them up and down the floor. Then you can see what happens in the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t make them pay it in the third, we ran out of gas in the fourth but you can’t ask the girls to play any harder. All I can say that’s probably the hardest we played all year.”

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