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Hosting the Beef 'O' Brady's Shootout Classic, River Ridge faced a difficult challenge in its first-round contest Monday against Wharton.

The Royal Knights, led by star sophomore Leah Ford, were able to fend off the Wildcats 51-46.

Ford was dominant over an athletic Wharton squad, scoring 29 with 10 rebounds, three assists and four blocks. She was able to score 17 in the first half while pushing the Knights (3-1) out to a 25-10 lead at one point in the second quarter.

"That's one big thing we've worked on since last season," River Ridge coach Joeyn Dearsman said. "We need to be the aggressors and take it to the other team right away. I was very happy with how the girls did that."

The Wildcats (1-2) came storming back in the second half, putting more pressure on the ball and trapping constantly. While River Ridge went to the line 26 times because of this aggressiveness, including 15 made baskets, it caused many turnovers, cutting the lead to only 46-42 late in the fourth.

It was Ford who stepped up at a crucial point, driving to the basket and drawing yet another foul that eventually iced the contest.

Wharton got gritty efforts from point guard Kayla Clemons (12 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals) and power forward Shannon Clark (10 points, nine rebounds).

The Royal Knights face Palm Harbor University at 6 tonight in the championship game after the Hurricanes toppled Lecanto 48-35 in the earlier semifinal. The Panthers will take on Wharton in the consolation final at 3 p.m.