With games last week at Cumberland University in Tennessee and University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, the St. Catharine women looked to narrow the gap between them and the Mid-South Conference leaders, and that is exactly what Lena Bramblett’s team did in winning both contests against nationally ranked opponents.
The Patriots (9-4, 3-3) won a thrilling 81-79 decision at Cumberland on Thursday and followed that with a 60-57 win at Cumberlands on Saturday.
“Obviously these are two big wins on the road,” said Bramblett. “It boiled down to us executing at the end of the games and making free throws.”
Free throws were definitely a key Thursday as the teams combined for only four field goals in the last six minutes of the game. Fortunately, three of those baskets came at the St. Catharine end as they pulled out the clutch victory.
Trailing 55-52 with 4:45 remaining, Reilly Poirier pulled the Patriots within one point with a jumper in the paint. Janae Howard, who shared scoring honors with Poirier with 16 points, then gave St. Catharine a 56-55 lead at the 3:05 mark. The Bulldogs (14-1, 5-1) then missed four field goal attempts and committed one turnover down the stretch.
Machera Calhoun sank one of two free throws with eight seconds to go to complete the scoring and the Bulldogs missed a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer in an attempt to stay undefeated.
Calhoun and Rianne Hofstraat joined Poirier and Howard in double figures with 10 and 11 points respectively. Calhoun and Alexiss Griffin had eight rebounds each but the Bulldogs held a 36-33 advantage on the boards.
Cumberland shot just 32 percent from the field (20-63) while the Patriots were 19-41 (46 percent). St. Catharine was 17-21 at the foul line (81 percent) and the Bulldogs were 11-14 for 79 percent.
“They are a legitimate No. seven team in the country,” added Bramblett. “But my coaches did an excellent job of preparing the game plan and our players carried it out well.”
As they also did Saturday at the No. 16 University of the Cumberlands. Again, free throw shooting was crucial as the Patriots sank 26 of 33 (79 percent) from the charity stripe while Cumberlands was 10-12.
“When you are down nine points with nine minutes to go you have to hit free throws if you hope to come back,” said Bramblett.
Poirier again led the Patriots with 15 points as the senior forward was 7-8 at the foul line. Griffin added 13 points in the winning effort and Hofstraat and Howard had 10 each.
The Patriots’ accuracy from the foul line helped them overcome cold shooting from the field where they hit only 28 percent (16-58). Cumberlands (9-6, 2-4) had seven more field goals than the Patriots in shooting 36.5 percent (23-63).
St. Catharine again lost the rebounding battle 42-33 but Poirier completed a double-double with 13 rebounds.
The two wins allowed St. Catharine to climb to fifth place in the conference standings, two-and-a-half games behind first-place Campbellsville (12-3, 6-1). The Patriots now return to the friendly confines of Lourdes Hall for two more big conference games this week against visitors from Ohio, neither of which they have beaten in the four years they have participated in the MSC. Thursday they take on No. 15 Shawnee State at 6 p.m. and Saturday they host Rio Grande in a 4 p.m. game.