Playing four quarters is a mantra that will be very important to Pusch Ridge and coach Lonnie Tvrdy this year.
Fortunately, on Friday, they only needed to play about three good ones to defeat Rio Rico, 55-28.
The Lions struggled through the first quarter against Rico Rico, as they led 14-12, but the lead could’ve been a lot bigger without 13 early turnovers.
“You have one bad quarter against top competition (and bigger schools),” Tvrdy said. “You don’t win.”
Thanks to realignment, and their bump up into Division II play, the Lions have tougher opponents and bigger schools ahead like Canyon del Oro, Mountain View, Marana, and Ironwood Ridge.
“We played so hurried and frenzied (in the first),” Tvrdy said.
In the second, everything changed as the Lions started with a 16-0 run.
Tvrdy pointed out that the team started dribbling less, and the Lions started holding onto the ball, as they had no giveaways in the second.
The defense didn’t hurt either, as the Lions held the Hawks without a point until the final seven seconds of the second in building a 32-14 halftime lead.
A ball-hawking, smothering defense kept the Hawks from ever establishing their offense. The Lions forced 43 turnovers, 26 of those came in the first half.
Brittany Haro, of Rio Rico, who has a couple of 20-point games, was held to just eight points by the Lions. In the second half, she barely got to touch the ball. She only scored two points after the first period.
“If we are to make the playoffs and advance in the playoffs, or regionals, it will have to be because of our defense,” Tvrdy said. “We were doing a zone press,” Tvrdy said. “It was really good in the second quarter.”
Abby Maas led the Lions with 17 points, and was 7-10 from the field. Noelle Soltero provided the inside force with 12 points, including 6 of 7 from the free-throw line.
Olivia Christian came off the bench and scored eight points, going 3 for 4 from the floor for the Lions.
“We focus on defense this year,” Soltero said. “We strive for excellence.”
Part of the defensive effort was aided by Gabrielle Courtney, who had three steals in the first quarter, making life tough all night for Hawks dribblers.
“We had a hard time focusing in the first,” Soltero said. “After that, it was totally better.”
The Lions have played competitively this year, despite their jump in competition. Earlier in the year, they defeated Ironwood Ridge, 35-25.
“It’s so much more intense,” Soltero said. “We just want to be competitive.”
Tvrdy understands that the bar has been raised and the expectations are higher now.
“We have good quarters and bad quarters. We want to be excellent,” Tvrdy said. “The question at this point is can we stay focused?”