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LAND O’LAKES — Holding Leah Ford to one field goal would have been a sure way to secure victory against River Ridge earlier this season.
But Ford, who averages nearly 20 points, is getting a lot more help these days. Teammates Kayle Stark and Jaylnn Hoolihan scored in double figures as River Ridge won 41-27 Tuesday at Land O’Lakes.
“We have other girls starting to step up,” said Royal Knights coach Joeyn Dearsman. “Everyone tries to shut down Leah, and that was a really good game plan for the first half of the season.”
Ford, one of three starting sophomores for River Ridge (10-7), was shut out in the first half Tuesday. She finished with nine points, seven coming from the free-throw line. She scored 18 when the teams met Nov. 27, a game the Gators won 42-38.
Along with a more rounded scoring approach, one other recent change to the Knights’ outlook came from a holiday tournament in Palatka. River Ridge played some strong foes, going 1-2 with losses to the host as well as Ocala Trinity Catholic.
“We got out of Pasco County and it really helped. Facing the competition we faced was great for us,” Dearsman said.
Tuesday was the Knights’ return to action from a 10-day layoff, and Stark was the spark early on. She hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter as River Ridge went up 12-4. Ford had a key sequence in the second quarter where she rejected a shot on one end and assisted Stark on the other for a 17-8 lead.
River Ridge put things away with a red-hot start to the third quarter. The Knights made their first five field goal tries while Land O’Lakes missed its first nine, and it was 30-13 at that point. The Knights went 1-for-12 the rest of the way but a 12-of-15 stretch at the foul line made up for it.
Stark scored 11 while Hoolihan had 10. Ford led both teams in rebounds (eight) and had four assists. No Gator went for double figures but Pam Andrade had eight points and four assists. Sarah Nichols and Nicole Kraning each grabbed six rebounds.
Land O’Lakes shot less than 25 percent and had 19 turnovers, almost half of those in the first quarter.
Tuesday’s victory was enormous for the Knights as a defeat might have doomed them to a fourth-place finish in District 6A-10 — and a likely district semifinal date with dominant Tarpon Springs. Now River Ridge and Land O’Lakes will battle Mitchell for a top-three finish; both teams face Mitchell next week.