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Saint Francis gets 3rd shot at No. 1

– Now that Saint Francis snuffed out third-seeded Bethel 71-44 Friday at the Hutzell Center, its next move in the Crossroads League tournament is down the road, to Marion.

That’s where the NAIA’s fourth-ranked Cougars will play No. 1 Indiana Wesleyan at 7 p.m. Monday for the league championship.

It will be Round 3 of the rivalry; the rematch of the rematch.

By virtue of a coin flip, Wesleyan (30-2) got the No. 1 tournament seed and home-court advantage, which is why the Cougars (29-3) will hit the road.

Saint Francis won the first game between the two, 62-55, at home, and Indiana Wesleyan won on its floor, 59-57.

“That’s who I want to play,” Cougars coach Gary Andrews said.

“We owe them from the last time we played them. We didn’t play very well and they shot 57 percent. That’s who I want to play.”

Friday was also the third time Saint Francis played Bethel (24-7). But this one had nothing in common with the first two, when the Cougars lost in overtime, then won by three.

Saint Francis zoomed from an 8-7 lead over Bethel into 29-12 when 5-foot-9 freshman Brooke Ridley dropped a free throw with 4:19 left.

It was Ridley’s defense, though, that stole the show in the opening minutes when the Bishop Luers product had five blocks in the first three minutes, 10 seconds.

She finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks.

“She’s one of the best freshmen in the country; one of the best players in the country,” Andrews said.

“Offensively and defensively, she does a great job.”

Still, Bethel had a press up its sleeve to climb within 33-20 at the half.

With senior guard Kayla Drake on the bench with two fouls, the Cougars committed six turnovers over the last four minutes and change.

Saint Francis managed to get off three missed shots and three made free throws from Ridley.

Bethel even closed within 11 early in the second half, but a three-pointer from Meghan Slusher, who is one point short of 1,000 for her career, free throws from Ridley, a three from Jenelle Wilson and a transition layup by Skylarr Shurn sent the Cougars into a cozy 47-26 lead.

“Our defense was awesome, and we moved the ball offensively and hit some shots,” Andrews said. “We took the ball to the basket. I thought we really played well.”

Drake led five players in double figures with 18 points. Kalah Baer had 12, while Shurn and Slusher had 10 each.

INDIANA WESLEYAN 64, HUNTINGTON 53: In Marion, top-seeded Wesleyan advanced to the first Crossroads League tournament championship game at 7 p.m. Monday with No. 4 Saint Francis at Marion.

Sarah Miller-Jennings led the Foresters (18-13) with 15 points.

MANCHESTER 48, DEFIANCE 32: In Lexington, Ky., Erynn Meiklejohn scored 11 points and had 10 rebounds to lead the Spartans (11-15), who owned a 22-6 halftime lead in the opening round of the HCAC tournament.

Manchester will face host Transylvania at 3 p.m. today.