Sunday, March 7, 2010

ONU falls in championship game

Erin Hanneman had 10 of her 26 points during a late 12-2 spurt for Saint Xavier, helping the Cougars pull away to a 103-96 victory over Olivet Nazarene in the final of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament Saturday. Saint Xavier, ranked No. 2 in the latest NAIA poll, secured the league's automatic bid to the national tournament, which begins March 17. Angie Bush matched her career high with 33 points for the Cougars (29-1).

This was the sixth championship in the 10-year history of the women's basketball program at Saint Xavier, but it was a tight one from the start. The game featured 13 lead changes and 13 ties, the final one coming at 82 on two free throws by ONU's Danielle Tolbert with 6:32 remaining in the game.

That's when Hanneman took over. All five of her baskets over the next 4 minutes were layups, and Bush added a jumper during the run that gave the Cougars a 94-84 lead with 2:15 left. The Tigers (16-17) got as close as 98-92 when Lisa Beyer converted 1-of-2 at the free throw line with 53 seconds on the clock, but Saint Xavier held on from there.

So the season ends for coach Doug Porter's ONU squad, and what a run it was down the stretch. A two-game losing streak back around the start of Feburary left his team with a record of 9-15, including 1-3 in the CCAC. But as so often happens with "The System," the completion of the schedule brought amazing results. Seven victories in the last nine games and a stirring run to third place in the final conference standings, during which ONU averaged 112.2 points.

In the final, Tolbert led the way with 18 points, and Danielle Pipal filled up her stat sheet with 16 points, seven assists and five steals before fouling out. Holly Wiersema scored 12 and Jaimie Buckman 11 for the Tigers. Buckman and Simone Coburn both made the all-conference team.

All in all, the future looks pretty bright for Coach Porter. Of the 14 players who played in the final -- each got at least 5 minutes of run, and no one got more than 21 -- only McCall Kitchel (2 points) completed her eligibility. And in the final, 82 of the 96 points came from either a freshman or a sophomore. The missing 12 points came from juniors Coburn (nine) and Beyer (three). You never can tell what will happen from year to year, but I would imagine Coach Porter feels good about where his program is.

I'll miss following ONU, and thanks to them for a wonderful season.

For those keeping track, that leaves only one "System" team left playing, officially: the boys' high school team at Whitmore Lake (Mich.), coached by Dave Arnold. I'm still hoping Glenville State receives a bid to the NCAA Division II women's tournament when the bracket is announced Sunday at 9 p.m. EST. It might be a long shot, but I'm an eternal optimist.

By the way, Whitmore Lake plays Tri-County Conference rival Clinton on Wednesday in the district tournament, so the best of luck to the Trojans. I'll keep you updated.

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