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Belles hungry to get back in playoff race

Kevin Brennan | Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Saint Mary’s needs to stop the bleeding.

Just three weeks ago, the Belles stood in a three-way tie for fourth place in the MIAA. The team’s main concern was finishing alone in the coveted fourth position and hosting a first-round tournament game. After losing its next five contests, however, Saint Mary’s now must finish the season strong to even ensure an appearance in the first round.

The Belles (9-14, 4-10 MIAA), currently tied with Adrian College for seventh place in the nine-team league, face a must-win game tonight at Kalamazoo 7:30 p.m.

Since the teams that finish in eighth and ninth places must participate in a tournament play-in game to earn the right to play the top seed in the first round, the Belles see tonight’s game and every subsequent regular season game as crucial to their postseason hopes.

“This game is extremely important along with our game on Saturday,” guard Bridget Boyce said. “We all have positive attitudes and are really looking for this win. Right now we aren’t even thinking about that play-in game.”

Saint Mary’s takes confidence from its earlier defeat this season of Kalam-azoo. On Jan. 19, the Belles outlasted the Hornets 64-63 in a fierce battle at the Angela Athletic Center. Saint Mary’s feels it learned a great deal about Kalamazoo in that game and can use that knowledge to its advantage tonight.

“They really overplay [our players] down low and the guards on the wings,” Boyce said. “We need to concentrate on taking them to the basket and pushing the ball down floor because we can definitely score some easy points off them that way.”

Belles freshman Allison Kessler remembers Kalamazoo for its aggressive style of play.

“I think we can exploit them because they are so aggressive,” Kessler said. “We just need to play our game and not be forced into turnovers.”

If Saint Mary’s hopes to win, though, it must reverse a recent trend of poor play. Players admit the team’s performance in the last five games has been unacceptable.

“We just haven’t been playing well,” Kessler said. “We are definitely looking to turn that around [today] at Kala-mazoo and come out and play a solid 40 minutes, play a whole game.”

Boyce feels the Belles’ problem has been finishing off teams.

“In the second half we just aren’t closing the deal,” Boyce said. “In the last five or 10 minutes of the game we usually have the lead, and we are just letting it slip away.”

If Saint Mary’s does manage to defeat the Hornets and then beat last place Olivet on Sat-urday, it could make a huge jump in the close MIAA sta-ndings. If the Belles win out and receive some help, the team could potentially finish the regular season in fifth place. Saint Mary’s would then likely face fourth place Tri-State in the first round of the tournament.

“We have beat them twice already so we would be very confident heading into that game,” Kessler said of a match-up with Tri-State.