Behind the heady play of point guard Sara Ruckman and the one-two inside combination of Becca Strobbe and Kassidy Ritchel, the Truman Patriots beat visiting Raytown 51-40 Thursday and in the process evened its record at 9-9 on the season.

It’s been a long time coming, but now the Truman Patriots can breathe again.

Behind the heady play of point guard Sara Ruckman and the one-two inside combination of Becca Strobbe and Kassidy Ritchel, the Patriots beat visiting Raytown 51-40 Thursday and in the process evened its record at 9-9 on the season.

“We started off 1-6 and now we’re 9-9,” Patriots head coach Steve Cassity said after Truman’s eighth win in its last 11 games. “We had a rough start, but we’ve gotten better. Beating Raytown is a quality win.”

Speaking of rough starts, the Patriots employed a 2-3 zone defense that stifled Raytown’s outside-inside scoring threat of point guard Timeka O’Neal and forward Atoya Harris.

Harris, who came into the game averaging double figures in points, was held scoreless on the night and played sparingly in the first half because of spotty play. The Patriots led just 11-8 when Harris went to the bench for the rest of the half with 6:03 left in the second quarter.

An 8-0 Truman run followed with the Patriots outscoring the Blue Jays 13-3 over the last six minutes of the quarter to take a 24-11 halftime lead.

“Our 2-3 is good to us most nights,” Cassity said. “We’re able to cover the perimeter, kind of choke off the post and we’re able to keep dribblers under control. Those things are important to us. That’s good defense for us.”

O’Neal led the Blue Jays with 15 points and three assists, but found it difficult to penetrate the Patriot defense.

“Putting a zone in front of (O’Neal) is helpful because you can provide plenty of help for her speed,” Cassity said. “We tried to make sure we knew where she was all the time.”

Ruckman spearheaded Truman’s defensive effort for the Patriots and was in control running the offense. She scored 13 points and, on defense, constantly forced O’Neal to give up the ball to a teammate.

“Yesterday in practice we had a really hard practice,” Ruckman said. “We focused on our defense, and I think that carried over to the game. We just didn’t let them get easy shots.”

Ruckman’s overall play didn’t go unnoticed by her coach.

“Sara stepped up and had a great game,” Cassity said. “She was all over the place. Defensively, she was real busy. In transition she got some points, so you know, when Sara gets in double figures like that, that’s real good for us.”

Ruckman had plenty of help from Strobbe and Ritchel. Strobbe scored a game-high 21 points and Ritchel added seven points, four rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots.

All four of Ritchel’s assists came on feeds from the high post to Strobbe down low for layups.

“It seemed like every time I was high, she was open down low,” Ritchel said. “I just kept feeding it to her because we just want to win. If she’s going to score those points, then that’s good for us.”

Raytown (9-6) head coach Jan Handley was not too pleased with the overall play of the Blue Jays, but he did find a silver lining in the wake of the team’s sixth loss of the season.

The Blue Jays responded to Harris’ fourth foul with 1:16 left in the third quarter by going on a 16-6 run that cut a 35-16 Truman lead to nine points with 4:39 left in the game.

Raytown would eventually cut Truman’s lead to 44-38 on a 3-pointer by O’Neal at the 3:09 mark, but Truman regrouped and made 5 of 6 free-throws down the stretch to hold on for a big non-conference win.

“I was real proud of our girls in the fourth quarter,” Handley said. “A lot of the girls played as hard in the fourth as they have all season and hopefully they’ll learn from that.”