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Saint Francis women fall on road to No. 1

– Saint Francis coach Gary Andrews was naturally bummed that his Cougars women’s basketball team didn’t take over the No. 1 spot after they lost 59-57 to top-ranked Indiana Wesleyan on Wednesday.

“If we would have won, we would’ve moved up to first place in the conference,” Andrews said.

As in the Crossroads League?

“Yeah,” Andrews said. “Winning the conference championship is pretty important – at least in this conference.”

There was also the little matter of both teams’ national rankings. Wesleyan (26-1, 14-1) will surely maintain its No. 1 spot in all of the NAIA, and Saint Francis (24-3, 13-2) was No. 3 coming in.

“I don’t think we’ll drop,” Andrews said.

Then again, neither did Kayla Drake’s 24-footer in the dying seconds that would have sent Saint Francis over the Wildcats for the second time this season. Indiana Wesleyan’s lone loss was against Saint Francis, 62-55, at the Hutzell Center on Jan. 16.

Hanging on to the two-point lead, Indiana Wesleyan’s Taylor Goshert went to the free throw line with 6.4 seconds left. She missed the first half of the one-and-one, which enabled Saint Francis to get one, final chance.

Drake, who led the Cougars with 19 points, four steals and seven rebounds, unloaded a three-pointer with two seconds left, but it was blocked by Wesleyan’s Emma Stahl.

“I thought I did (get fouled), but we’re away, so I shouldn’t have even expected the call,” Drake said. “I thought she hit my hand, but the ref didn’t.”

Saint Francis took a 6-1 lead but missed its next seven shots while Indiana Wesleyan went on a 12-0 spree.

The Cougars worked their way back to within seven at the half, but Wesleyan went ahead by 12, 36-24, with 14:28 remaining in the game.

The Saint Francis shots that didn’t fall early began to drop. Brooke Ridley made a bucket from close range, Drake dropped two straight three-pointers and Jenelle Wilson made two straight layups – the last coming with 12:13 left that brought the Cougars even at 36-all.

Ridley’s rebound bucket with 7:28 left gave Saint Francis its biggest lead of the half, 46-42. For the final few minutes, the game was tied at 51, 53 and 55, until Wesleyan scored with 54 seconds left and made two free throws with 19.1 remaining.

“It would have been great to have been No. 1,” Andrews said. “We’ll just have to beat them the next time.”

The next time could come in the Crossroads League tournament next month.

“We’re two of the best teams in the nation,” Drake said. “I feel that this was a national tournament game.”

stwarden@jg.net

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