Saint Francis 85, Huntington 77, OT

Saint Francis center Kalah Baer talks about hers and the Cougars big night

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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Kalah Baer gets past Huntington’s Amelia Echemann for a shot in the first half Wednesday at the Hutzell Athletic Center.

Cougars let lead slip late, stay unbeaten with OT win

– What, you thought No. 21 was going to come quietly?

The first 20 of that unbroken stack of wins had their moments of stubbornness, and so of course, Wednesday night, the 21st straight played the tease.

One minute the top-ranked NAIA Division II Saint Francis women’s basketball team was cruising toward it, up 14 on Huntington with six minutes to play; the next, they were having to put the pieces of their composure back together to pull out an 85-77 victory in overtime that explained a lot about why the Cougars are now 21-0 and have tied the school record for consecutive victories.

“The mood going into the overtime was probably, ‘We need to pick our stuff up,’ ” said 6-foot center Kalah Baer, who scored 10 of Saint Francis’ 14 overtime points to get the Cougars (8-0 Crossroads League) home safely again. “We know we’re better than this. We know we can do it. So we all stuck in it and we all dug deepm and we did it.”

They did it, mainly, with defense, which is how they built a 14-point lead over a Foresters team that wouldn’t go away.

Leading 42-38 at the break, the Cougars shook 13 turnovers out of Huntington in the second half and overtime, closed down the spot on the floor from which Huntington forward Amelia Recker hit them with 18 points in the first half, and finally exploited the advantage they had inside with Baer (16 points, eight rebounds) and Brooke Ridley (19 and seven).

“I thought a tree could have played defense better than we played in the first half,” Saint Francis coach Gary Andrews said. “We didn’t guard them at all. I thought we picked up our defense and we played pretty well in the second half, but the last three, four minutes we didn’t guard them and, … they hit some tough shots. They’re a good shooting team, and if you don’t guard them they’re going to hit shots.”

True enough. The Cougars used a 19-6 run to lead 70-56 with 5:52 to play, but then the Foresters (14-6, 6-3) started chipping away. Pazia Speed, who had 20 to complement Recker’s 25 for Huntington, stuck a 3-pointer to tie it at 72 with less than a minute left in regulation.

It was only the second time since 0-0 the Foresters had been even, and it remained that way when Skylarr Shurn missed a short jumper in the final seconds.

Then, Baer happened.

“We wanted to try to go to Kalah,” said Andrews, whose team put four players in double figures, led by Jenelle Wilson’s 23. “We kind of had that plan the whole game, and Kalah stepped up and became more of a force there in the overtime.”

Sounds good to Baer.

“I felt it was time for me to step up and actually make some shots and kind of help my team out,” she said.

And the 21st straight win?

“It’s a big accomplishment,” she said. “We’ve already broken the 14 in a row from last year and now 21-0, and we’re hoping to be 22-0 and break the record again.”