One of the traits Don Worstell believed he saw in the Ready High School boys basketball team shortly after taking over last summer as coach was an ability to use toughness to its advantage.

One of the traits Don Worstell believed he saw in the Ready High School boys basketball team shortly after taking over last summer as coach was an ability to use toughness to its advantage.

That personality has been at the forefront of the Silver Knights' strong start.

Ready averaged 51.6 points in its first 12 games, but went 4-3 during games in which it was held to 50 points or less.

The Silver Knights have used a tight-knit group of seven seniors to overcome a height-challenged offense which has featured only one consistent weapon in senior guard Joe Graessle, who was averaging 21.9 points through 12 games.

"All year we've been kind of struggling offensively," senior guard Matt Biggs said. "It's coming along slowly but surely. We all know (Graessle's) our best scorer. I love trying to get him open and trying to get him shots. All of the seniors have been tight all four years."

Ready's ability to play strong defense has been on display since it lost to Zanesville Rosecrans 61-46 on Jan. 9.

The Silver Knights followed with consecutive wins in which they held their opponent below 40 points, defeating Worthington Christian 48-39 on Jan. 15, Jonathan Alder 46-35 on Jan. 19 and St. Charles 41-34 on Jan. 22.

They've found success despite a lineup whose tallest regulars are Graessle (6-foot-3) and backup post player Jackson Riffle (6-4).

Graessle and Biggs (5-10) are joined as starters by seniors Cody Culbertson (5-9), Eddy Bahen (5-11) and Matt Feeney (6-0).

Sophomore Derek Farmer (5-9) has become a key contributor off the bench with his outside shooting and Worstell also has been pleased with the development of freshman Kyle Wilgus (5-11).

"We're not always pretty, but we're so tough and we guard people," Worstell said. "I've been pleased with our defensive effort. We've got to be tough defensively when our offense is struggling.

"I think our best basketball is ahead of us."

•After the girls basketball team used a 17-5 fourth-quarter run on Jan. 23 to defeat visiting Hartley 45-35, coach Joe Lang took center stage.

Now in his 29th season, Lang was presented a game ball and received a standing ovation because the victory represented the 400th of his coaching career.

Lang earned his 300th win on Dec. 9, 2003, with a 50-31 victory over London.

"What it means to me is that counting these nine varsity players, there have been 102 kids that I've had who have graduated from here," Lang said. "I'm not an easy person to play for. It's a pretty demanding style of basketball we play. That says that the old dude has been around for a long time. I've had three great principles and great assistants come and go, and it's nice that I get acknowledged, especially since I didn't score a point."

Lang, a Ready graduate who played for the Silver Knights' boys team, took over the girls program when he was 26 years old.

In a ceremony that followed in the school cafeteria, the girls varsity team presented Lang with another game ball.

"We found out about (the coaching milestone) about two weeks ago," senior guard Heather Manning said. "He's definitely a role model for all of us. We're definitely excited to be a part of it."

The way the Silver Knights played in the fourth quarter also should increase their confidence during the final weeks of the regular season.

After Hartley rallied from a 24-19 halftime deficit to take a 30-28 lead into the final period, the Silver Knights retook the lead at 32-30 on a pair of free throws by Manning with 5:46 to go.

Manning also assisted on a basket by Alyssa Zag that gave Ready a 37-31 lead with 3:55 to go. Hartley got as close as 37-35, but the Silver Knights scored the final eight points as Manning and Courtney Neff each made two free throws during the final minute.

Taylor Riggs finished with 13 points and Neff added 11 to lead Ready.

The Silver Knights struggled offensively in back-to-back losses to DeSales (37-36 on Jan. 16) and Watterson (37-36 on Jan. 20) in the two games before the victory.

"The Watterson game threw a wrench into our confidence," Lang said. "I told them I was really impressed with the way they executed (last Saturday). They knew what a good shot was, and Courtney Neff and Heather Manning knocked down foul shots, which was huge."