Women's Basketball Hands Hopkins First CC Loss

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Men’s basketball, wrestling

Colleen Caldwell ducked under a table and weaved through a drum set – on opposite ends of the court and on separate occasions – to retrieve a dead ball during the Muhlenberg women’s basketball game at Johns Hopkins.

The Mules certainly took a circuitous path to get where they wanted to go.

Abby Stenger
Stenger finished with eight points; her two threes gave her a team-leading 26 for the season.

Muhlenberg built a double-digit lead at halftime, watched it all slip away in a matter of minutes, and weathered a frantic finish to pull out a 58-54 victory, handing the first-place Blue Jays their first Centennial Conference loss of the season in a thrilling battle between the league’s most successful programs. The heart-stopping result was also a win for the 2008-09 Mules, ensuring that they remain the only team in CC history to complete an undefeated conference season.

“That,” junior Hannah Rush said, “was stressful.

“We knew this was going to be a really tough game,” continued Rush, who knocked down the clinching free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining. “The season is going to come down to a lot of games like this. This win will be really big down the road.”

Christina Santone
Sophomore Christina Santone had three points, three rebounds and an assist in the last 2:30 of the first half.
The Mules (10-7, 7-4) dominated the first half, holding the league’s top scoring offense to 21-percent shooting and forcing 14 turnovers to take a 31-19 lead into the locker room. Once the teams took the court again, the advantage was gone in a flash.

The Blue Jays (12-4, 10-1) scored the first 12 points after intermission to pull into a tie just three and a half minutes into the stanza, forcing Muhlenberg into a pair of early timeouts. The Mules regained the lead and kept it until a three-point play gave Johns Hopkins its first lead (47-46) since scoring off the opening tip, one second into the game. Muhlenberg got it right back on a layup by junior Leanna Tallamy, but the Blue Jays pulled even at 52 on a three-pointer with 1:10 to play. The Mules didn’t blink.

Senior Erin Laney converted the first two of six straight made free throws in the final minute, giving Muhlenberg a 54-52 lead before a wild sequence unfolded.

After the teams traded turnovers, Johns Hopkins had the ball with 35 seconds to play. The Blue Jays misfired on a three-pointer, grabbed their own rebound and missed the putback. Muhlenberg, however was called for traveling on the rebound, giving the Blue Jays another chance. Bidding for the lead, another three-pointer went begging, and Tallamy corralled the carom. The junior passed to classmate Abby Stenger, who calmly canned both free throws to make it 56-52 with 18 seconds to play.

“We knew we needed a rebound, and we were just so hyper,” Rush said of the chaotic sequence. “It was like one thing after another. Finally we were able to settle down and do what we had to do: get the rebound and make our free throws. That’s just the way we play. We knew we were going to get it eventually.”

The Blue Jays hit a pair at the line to cut the lead back to two, but Rush ’s clutch foul shots iced the Mules’ biggest win of the season.

Tallamy scored a team-high 16 points for the Mules. Muhlenberg hit its first five three-point attempts, with Stenger draining a pair along with long balls by Rush, Caldwell and junior Nicole Pepe, who added three of the team’s 11 steals. Johns Hopkins, which came in leading the CC in field-goal percentage, was just 31 percent from the floor, including 4 of 19 (21 percent) from long distance.

And when the Blue Jays landed their big punch to start the second half, plus a few counterpunches down the stretch, the Mules had all the answers, keeping their composure to win in Baltimore for the fourth straight year. Muhlenberg emerged victorious in the regular season last year and captured CC championships in 2011 and 2012. Like its predecessors, this is one the Mules won’t soon forget.

“That’s been us all season,” Rush said. “We have our ups and downs, but it all comes down to us keeping our focus. We knew at halftime that it wasn’t going to be easy. We just had to do what we know we can do and finish at the end like we did.”
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