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INDEPENDENCE—Riccela DiGeronimo scored a game-high 21 points to lead Independence to a 58-35 season-opening win over visiting Coventry on Saturday.

The Comets pulled to within five points early in the third quarter but the Blue Devils regrouped and pulled away for their first victory of the season.

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“It was our first time out of the gate,” said Independence coach Mike Marcinko. “We talked at halftime and afterward, game speed and practice speed are two different things. We were gassed but you’ve still got to fight through it. We’ll throw bodies at them and play our pace and I really thought we kind of wore them down and we were fighting through it.”

Thanks to an aggressive defense and accurate shooting, Independence jumped out to a 15-6 lead in the first quarter.

DiGeronimo scored 11 of her 21 in that frame.

Sophomore point guard Natalie George sparked the Blue Devils in the first quarter with her pesky defense and her ability to distribute the ball on the other end of the floor.

George, who saw limited action last season as a freshman behind four-year starter Haylee Dmitruk, finished the game with eight points.

“She has a really good understanding of what we’re trying to get done as far as pace of play and our options early in the offense,” Marcinko said of George. “She’s sneaky quick and she gets those deflections and steals. I always tell her, if you end up with 6-10 points that would be a great night for us at the point guard position. She gets us on both ends of the floor into the pace we want to be in.”

Coventry opened the third quarter with a pair of early 3-pointers to pull to within 27-22.

Independence responded with 3-pointers from Anna Weber, Alex Adams and Addie Westerburg to regain control of the game.

Weber finished with 15 points, Adams added six and Westerburg and Kara DeSmith both scored four points.

“We were a little bit complacent (at the start of the third quarter),” Marcinko said. “We didn’t close out well or defend well and we got a little lazy and they made a run. But, then all of a sudden, here comes Anna with a 3 and Riccela hit something and Addie got a 3. Riccela gets a steal and Natalie got a steal and we were off and running.”

Independence played its first game without Dmitruk and Riley Wilson, a pair of four-year starters who graduated last spring.

Adding to the challenge was the fact the Blue Devils were missing a starter and another key player off the bench, but that forced several others to step up in their first varsity action.

“We were missing two of our top six, so you don’t have your 6-foot center and you don’t have your 3-point shooter that comes off the bench,” Marcinko said. “I was really pleased that we had multiple people contribute. Coventry couldn’t care less that we were missing two people and the next team won’t care. We’ve got to step up and do your job to the best of your ability and I thought we did that. It’s going to be a game-by-game situation. We’re throwing three sophomores out there that haven’t had a lot of varsity experience. We’ll have our ups and downs but the first one is always the toughest one to get. We’re going home on a Saturday with a W so we’re happy.”

Junior Kylie Goodlet led Coventry with 16 points.

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The creator and publisher of OhioVarsity.com, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for IrishIllustrated.com, a member of the Scout.com network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. OhioVarsity.com was created in 2004 and was a member of the Rivals.com network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.