St. Francis women right ship in NEC

LORETTO – The St. Francis women’s basketball team backed itself into a corner in the Northeast Conference standings after recently suffering three straight losses.

The Red Flash fell from second to fourth in two short weeks and with the way the league has played out this season, a postseason berth could have been slipping away, too.

But St. Francis regrouped Saturday afternoon and defeated Monmouth, 69-56, at DeGol Arena on senior day.

The win moved the Red Flash back into a tie for third with the Hawks, but since St. Francis swept the season series with Monmouth, it holds the tiebreaker.

“It was an incredibly important win,” St. Francis coach Joe Haigh said. “We knew winning this one would put us in the driver’s seat for third place, but also if we would have lost, we would only be up two games on eighth- and ninth-place spots. Every win is huge right now.

“The first step is to get into the playoffs and that’s not guaranteed right now. But this win puts us in pretty good shape to have a home [playoff] game.”

St. Francis (14-12, 9-6 NEC) controlled the game from the opening tip – even with seniors Kelley Doogan and Rhonda Watts getting their first starts of the season.

“They’ve all started games for us in the past,” Haigh said of starting three seniors, including Kia Gibbs. “I almost didn’t start them. It may have thrown [Monmouth] off. I was glad we got off to a decent start. We ran plays for our seniors. I wanted to give them opportunites to get in anf get shots up early.”

“They’ve got our number right now,” Monmouth coach Jenny Palmateer said. “I thought that St. Francis came out and from the tip, they played on a mission. They have a great focus to them, just a great focus and intensity to them and they jumped on us from the start and we just could never really recover.”

And the pressure defense was relentless.

The Red Flash forced Monmouth (12-14, 9-6) into 30 turnovers.

“You’re not going to win any games turning the ball over 30 times, plain and simple,” Palmateer said. “We just couldn’t string a good defensive stop with an offensive score. We just had a tough time getting all on the same page today.”

“I don’t know why we’re so successful against them,” said Haigh, whose team forced 24 turnovers in a 14-point win at Monmouth on Jan. 14. “They have very good players. It’s probably the constant pressure. They made more layups against us than most teams do, so we switched to a different press. And then you could kind of tell that they got a little bit tired.”

Alli Williams recorded her 20th double-double of the season with 18 points and 10 rebounds, Rebecca Keegan scored 13 points and Alexa Hayward added eight.

Alysha Womack scored a game-high 21 points for the Hawks, and Chevannah Paalvast added 13 points, but St. Francis held Carly Thibault scoreless after she dropped 18 in the previous meeting.

“That’s the key,” Haigh said. “We didn’t want them to run their offense because they have great individual talent with Womack and their shooter Thibault. They have the pieces. I just think we did a great job of keeping the pressure constant throughout the game.”

St. Francis hosts Fairleigh Dickinson on Monday in the Flash’s final regular season home game before hitting the road next weekend to close out the season.

MONMOUTH (12-14, 9-6): Paalvast 5-9 3-6 13, Martin 2-4 1-2 5, Womack 7-15 4-4 21, Thibault 0-2 0-0 0, Singer 1-2 0-0 3, Chambers 0-0 0-0 0, Allen 2-4 0-0 4, Walker 0-1 0-0 0, Dragicevic 2-3 0-0 4, Gadziala 3-9 0-0 6, English 0-2 0-2 0. Totals 22-51 8-14 56.

ST. FRANCIS (14-12, 9-6): FLeming 1-5 4-6 6, Doogan 1-4 1-2 3, Gibbs 2-10 2-4 6, Hayward 2-5 2-2 8, Watts 0-3 3-4 3, Carangelo 1-1 0-0 2, Taylor 2-5 0-0 6, Brock 1-2 0-0 2, Sparks 1-5 0-2 2, Perkins 0-0 0-0 0, Keegan 5-8 3-4 13, Williams 4-14 9-11 19, Phillips 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-62 24-35 69.

Halftime–St. Francis 30-18. 3-point goals–Monmouth 4-11 (Womack 3-6, Singer 1-2, Allen 0-1, Thibault 0-2), St. Francis 5-16 (Taylor 2-4, Hayward 2-5, Williams 1-4, Doogan 0-1, Gibbs 0-1, Brock 0-1). Fouled out–None. Rebounds–Monmouth 46 (Paalvast 9), St. Francis 36 (Williams 10). Assists–Monmouth 11 (Paalvast 3, Thibault 3), St. Francis 12 (Sparks 3, Williams 3). Total fouls–Monmouth 22, St. Francis 12.