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SMC Basketball: Season ends with tourney defeat

Jay Fitzpatrick | Wednesday, February 22, 2006

With time running out in the first round of the MIAA Tournament Tuesday, Belles guard Allison Kessler took a desperation three that bounced off the rim, gave No. 6 seed Alma College a 49-46 upset of the No. 3 seed Belles and ended one of the best seasons in Saint Mary’s history.

Kessler hit a three-pointer on the previous Belles possession to cut the Saint Mary’s deficit to 47-46 with less than five seconds remaining in the game.

The Belles fouled Alma senior Katey Peacock for the third time in the final minute, and the veteran made 6-of-6 from the free throw line to keep the Scots just out of the Belles’ reach until the end.

Peacock was a dominant force for Alma, posting 10 rebounds and netting 16 points – 12 from the charity stripe. The Scots as a team shot 17-of-20 on foul shots, as Alma was already in the bonus with seven minutes remaining in the second half, and did not commit its seventh foul for another two minutes. This gave them a clear advantage over the Belles, and Alma capitalized. The high number of fouls put two of the Belles’ key players, guard Bridget Boyce and forward Erin Newsom, in foul trouble much earlier than coach Steve Bender would have liked.

“The trends of the fouls killed us,” Bender said. “They were mostly touch fouls and mugging fouls – stuff that wasn’t really called in the first half. That really took us out of our game, especially after three quick fouls on Bridget Boyce.”

This game demonstrated the ability of the Saint Mary’s defense more than in recent games. The Belles were able to hold an opponent to under 50 points for the first time since Jan. 3 against Tri-State.

The Belles played tough defense in the first half after Bender decided to add pressure on the passer to try and stop the high-low game for Alma. This added pressure helped the Belles immensely, leading to a slew of defensive stops for Saint Mary’s after the switch.

But one major problem for the Belles in the high-low game was the inability to cover the post player, Alma forward Darcie Philp. Neither Newsom nor center Nicole Beier were completely effective in shutting down Philp, who contributed 14 points and five boards in the upset.

The Belles held Alma to just 33 percent shooting for the game, but Saint Mary’s as a team shot even worse from the floor at 31.6 percent, including 17.6 percent from behind the arc.

“If you had told me that we would have held Alma to 49 points, I would have been sure we would win that game,” Bender said. “But we just weren’t clicking on offense. We couldn’t make the easy shots.”

Bender said one positive he can build on next year from Tuesday’s game is the play of current junior Bridget Lipke. Lipke excelled in against Alma, scoring 11 points with four rebounds and six assists – and the guard played the full 40 minutes.

“I was really impressed by the play of the three veterans – Lipke, Boyce, and [sophomore] Kessler,” Bender said. “They started off a little slow, but once they bought into the system, we really took off.”

Bender said the season was a crucial one for the Belles, who started 1-5 but finished third in the conference and are owners of the best record in school history.

Less than an hour after the loss, Bender said he was already looking forward to next season.

“We are going to be tougher than nails and we are going after it,” he said. “Look for us in the [MIAA] top two next season.”

Contact Jay Fitzpatrick at [email protected] or 4-3905