EMMITSBURG, MD - St. Francis found itself in a similar, yet, complete opposite position than it was during this past Sunday's quarterfinal game.
The Flash opened a 16-point lead on host Mount St. Mary's Wednesday night, then had to hold on late after the Mountaineers cut it to one in the final minute.
SFU was able to, after missing several free throws in the clutch, come through down the stretch to hold off the rally from the Mount in picking up a 68-63 win in Northeast Conference semifinal action at Knott Arena.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
The St. Francis women’s basketball team celebrates its semifinal win, which puts it in?Sunday’s NEC title game.
"It's an incredible win to survive another one," St. Francis coach Joe Haigh said. " Today, we played well. [We] had a good second half - got out to a nice lead, then they [Mount St. Mary's] did a great job coming back."
"When they turned up the pressure that really caused us a lot of problems. In the end, we were able to survive again."
The win moved the Flash into Sunday's 3 p.m. championship against Robert Morris, a 72-67 victor over Bryant, in Moon Township.
"I'm proud of our team. We gave it a great fight," Mount St. Mary's coach Bryan Whitten said. "Down sixteen and we cut it to one. I told the team, I thought it was a little late to make that run. It took a lot of energy to get back there. We just weren't able to pull it out."
St. Francis (15-16) also remained a perfect 16-for-16 in semifinal games.
In addition to having to hold off a determined Mountaineer rally, the Flash had to do it without senior Alli Williams, who fouled out of the game with 1:36 remaining and her team up eight (64-56).
"They were pressuring us pretty well for the majority of the second half. So, not only, was I afraid to drive to the hoop to get a charge or something, they were messing up our offense," Williams said. "I didn't touch the ball too much [in the second half], but I wasn't really worried about it because my teammates definitely stepped up and made some big shots."
From that point on, the Mount (19-13) went on a 7-0 run, keyed by its defensive pressure, to trim the lead to one (64-63) as an inside bucket by Jacqueline Brewer with 21.3 ticks left put it in that spot.
"Sometimes in those situations, it's tougher for the offensive team to play with that same type of desperation because you're being attacked so hard by the defensive team," Haigh said. "It kind of looked like it rattled us a bit."
With 14.3 to go in the game, Alexa Hayward, who led the Flash with 20 points and five 3-pointers, was fouled. She knocked down both free throws, after having missed three straight in previous trips down the floor.
"Before those last two [free throws], two of my teammates came over and told me 'you got this, we know you got this. We have confidence in you,'" Hayward said. "I think that really made a difference - knowing my teammates have that confidence in me."
Sydney Henderson, who totaled 13 points on the night, tried an off balanced three from the right side that hit off the rim, and came flying back into the arms of St. Francis' Aisha Brock.
Brock, who recorded 13 points on 4-of-5 from the floor, canned her two free throws with 3.1 left to set the final.
"We were supposed to switch everything, and I switched onto the ball. I didn't even know she [Henderson] was there actually," Brock said. "I just tried to run to get to her as fast as possible. I'm just so happy that she missed it, and that I got the rebound."
The start of the game was delayed 26 minutes due to a power outage and both teams came out shooting poorly when the game got under way.
However, following the first media timeout, St. Francis came out finding their range from the outside as their first four made field goals came from 3-point range. The final triple by Alli Williams at 14:04 had the Flash up 12-6.
From there, the two teams went back-and-forth with the Flash grabbing their largest lead (27-19) of the opening half at the 2:49 mark on a hoop from Williams.
St. Francis only trailed once in the entire game - at 4-3 almost four minutes into the contest.
SFU took a four point edge into the locker room, and then jumped all over the Mountaineers to open the second half.
The Red Flash quickly increased that advantage to 13 (44-31) at the first media timeout as Hayward scored on a floater while getting fouled. She nailed the free throw to five SFU that edge.
The Flash, behind back-to-back buckets inside from Shaqeia Stokes, increased their lead at the 12:31 mark to 51-35.
If SFU thought MSM was going to roll over at that point, they were wrong as the home team delivered with a 9-0 run to trim the lead to 51-44 when Henderson buried a wide-open triple at with 10:29 left on the clock.
Just as fast as they gave up the double-digit advantage, the Flash got it back as Corissa Archer grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback. She made good on the free throw to stretch the lead back to 10 (54-44).
Williams, who managed 16 points and nine rebounds, was held to just three shots after the break - the last of which she hit at the 5:09 mark.
"I think one of the biggest things is Alexa Hayward making five three's," Whitten said. "If you would have told me before the game that she was going to make five three's, I would have said 'you're crazy' because we're going to defend her. In the same respect, if you would have told me that Alli Williams was only going have 16 points and we were going to lose, I would have said, 'you're crazy,''
The Mountaineers kept trimming the lead only to have the Flash move it back up with a small run.
Mount St. Mary's not only lost the game, but also had Kayla Grossett go down with an apparent knee injury at the 2:30 spot - right before the Red Flash earned their eight-point edge on the Archer basket with 2:02 to go.
St. Francis won the battle of the boards, 40-34, while they had one more turnover (18) then the Mount.
Rebecca Keegan provided nine rebounds for the Flash, while Jenn Carney tallied 10 points for the Mountaineers.
"The championship game is going to be up to a new level," Hayward said. "We're not going to let our seniors go out on a loss."
ST. FRANCIS (15-16): Archer 3-4 1-3 7, Williams 7-14 0-1 16, Keegan 2-5 0-0 4, Murphy 1-9 0-0 2, Hayward 6-16 3-6 20, Blaine 0-0 0-0 0, Taylor 1-1 0-0 2, Stokes 2-5 0-2 4, Brock 4-5 4-4 13, Allison 0-1 0-0 0, Phillips 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 26-60 8-16 68.
MOUNT ST. MARY'S (19-13): Mathews 4-4 0-0 8, Grossett 0-1 0-0 0, Christie 2-11 1-2 6, Henderson 5-14 1-2 13, Brewer 6-10 2-6 16, Chickey 1-2 0-0 2, Kaufman 3-7 0-0 8, Carney 2-5 6-6 10, Eisenhard 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 23-55 10-16 63.
Halftime: St. Francis, 29-25. 3-point field goals: St. Francis 8-21 (Hayward 5-10, Williams 2-6, Brock 1-2, Murphy 0-2); Mount St. Mary's 7-18 (Henderson 2-4, Brewer 2-4, Kaufman 2-5, Christie 1-4, Carney 0-1). Assists: St. Francis 17 (Williams 5); Mount St. Mary's 14 (Christie, Carney 4 each); Rebounds: St. Francis 40 (Williams, Keegan 9 each); Mount St. Mary's 34 (Christie 9). Total fouls: St. Francis 17, Mount St. Mary's 18. Fouled out: Williams. Technicals: none.
Officials: Warren Harding, Maggie Tieman, Geraldine Smith.