By Steven Merritt
NEWBURGH – The Mount Saint Mary College Women’s Basketball team was held to a season-low 39 points as they suffered their first loss in almost two months to the United States Merchant Marine Academy 44-39 in the Skyline Conference Final.
The Knights jumped out a game-high eight point lead following a Kayla Cleare layup at the 2:24 mark of the first quarter. Merchant Marine responded with a 8-2 run to start the second quarter to tie the game at 15 after two Lauren Hunter free throws.
A Katie Smith jumper put the Mount back on top 20-19 with 2:49 remaining in the second period but it was the final lead the Mount would have in the contest. A three-point play by Shelby Peters gave the Mariners a two point lead heading into the halftime intermission.
The Knights were limited to 29.0-percent shooting and the Mariners finished the half shooting 36.4-percent as a team. The Mount was 0-for-9 from three and the Mariners were 1-for-5 from deep. The Knights forced 11 Merchant Marine turnovers in the first half.
Following a Cleare lay in to tie the game at 21, the Mariners rattled off a 9-2 run over the next five minutes of the third quarter. Two Elizabeth Limonta free throws cut the lead to three at the 1:42 mark but Hunter scored another bucket to push the lead to five following the third period.
A three-pointer from Julia Dahlke and a jumper from Kaleigh D’Arcy pushed the Merchant Marine to a game-high 10 points as the Knights were held scoreless for the first 6:34 of the fourth quarter. The Mount responded with a 12-4 run and cut the lead to two after a Smith jumper with 24 seconds to go in the contest. The Knights couldn’t find another bucket as the Mariners made three more throws and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
The shooting struggles continued in the second half for the Mount as they shot 22.6-percent in the second half. Merchant Marine knocked down two triples as the Knights failed to convert from the three-point line in the half.
Cleare and Smith each finished the game with a team-high 14 points as Cleare added 10 rebounds for her eighth double-double of the season. Smith was 7-for-14 from the field, Cleare finished 5-for-8 and Limonta chipped a team-high 11 rebounds.
Hunter led the way with the Mariners with an 11 point and 15 rebound double-double. D’Arcy added 13 points and nine rebounds as she was voted the Championships Most Outstanding Player.
Mount Saint Mary finished the game shooting 25.8-percent for the game and was 0-for-19 from the three-point line. The Mariners finished 38.1-percent as a team and knocked down three triples in the contest. The Mount outscored the Mariners 26-12 in the paint as Merchant Marine outscored the Mount in second chance points 12-10 and points off turnovers 15-12. The Knights grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and the Mariners grabbed 10.