FORT WAYNE – 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 womens 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 were 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 wouldnt 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 didnt 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 didnt guard them and, they hit some tough shots. Theyre a good shooting team, and if you dont guard them theyre 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 Reckers 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 Wilsons 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?
Its a big accomplishment, she said. Weve already broken the 14 in a row from last year and now 21-0, and were hoping to be 22-0 and break the record again.