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Belles lose in tough game with rival Adrian

Joe Meixell | Monday, January 23, 2006

Saint Mary’s fell to 7-11 overall on Saturday night with a heartbreaking loss to MIAA rival Adrian. The Bulldogs escaped with a 53-52 win when Alison Kessler’s half-court shot missed at the buzzer.

Down in the final minutes, the Belles were forced to foul, but after a few missed shots by Adrian, they cut the deficit to one and had a chance to take the lead. They stole the ball from Adrian, but a Belles pass landed out of bounds, setting up a missed one-and-one for the Bulldogs which led to Kessler’s desperation heave.

The Belles’ narrow defeat was almost an amazing comeback. They found themselves down 32-9 with just over two minutes left to go in the first half, but went on a 9-0 run before the half to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to just 32-18. Saint Mary’s fought its way back to 50-49 with just over two minutes left in the second, but were never able to take the lead. With the loss, the Belles dropped to 5-4 in conference play, but remained in fourth place in the MIAA.

The Belles were also playing hampered by injuries, as they were without point guard Bridget Lipke, who sprained her ankle in last Wednesday’s win over Albion, and were missing Bridget Boyce for much of the first half after a bizarre collision with a referee, which injured her ankle and left her clearly hobbled when she returned in the second half.

At the half, Belles coach Steve Bender rallied his team, which triggered its second half comeback.

“Things were not looking very good,” Bender said. “I challenged their womanhood. They didn’t seem very intense, maybe it was a physical and mental hangover from the effort we expended playing Albion.

“We were down 21, and we tried to get fouled and stop the clock, and it worked. We had a steal with 20 seconds left, and an errant pass went out of bounds.

“It was a great comeback, [the girls gave] great efforts, great to see them [keep trying] for as long as they did.”

Despite the disappointing loss, Bender said his team showed him a lot of good things.

“We fought off adversity,” he said. “We were without Lipke, there were a lot of girls having to adjust to new positions. It’s great to see we’re not giving up, not quitting, finding ways to hang in there. Erin Newsom and Alison Kessler, really gave us some heart in the second half.”

“Mental toughness,” Bender replied when asked what the Belles need to improve on. “We need to improve on being mentally and physically ready to start games. We can’t get behind early.”

The Belles have seven regular season games remaining, all rematches against MIAA teams.

“We’ve got some teams that spanked us pretty bad and we’re excited to play them again, and teams we beat, we have to do it again,” Bender said. “Our league is tough. Whoever comes to play wins, and we have to learn that.”

First up is Alma, who the Belles beat 74-68 earlier in the season.

“We’ll see how we are physically tomorrow,” Bender said of his team’s injury woes. “The main thing is we have to be at our sharpest, have two good practices. Alma is a great offensive team, a team on the rise, a real veteran team. I think we caught them by surprise [the last time we played]. We have to get tough and find a way to win.”