The University of St. Francis women’s basketball team faced a tall task trying to upend the defending NAIA Division II National Champions from Dakota Wesleyan on Friday in second round play at the National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.
And while the Saints were truly game, the might of the Tigers proved a bit too much in a 63-49 victory for Dakota Wesleyan.
Dakota Wesleyan advanced into to the quarterfinal round on Saturday, while St. Francis finished its fine season with a record of 24-9.
The game was closer than the final score indicates, as the two teams were separated by single digits for the first 37 minutes before Dakota Wesleyan went on a late 7-0 scoring run to finally widen the gap.
“We wanted to show tonight that we could play with them, and I think we did, we just didn’t finish it,” St. Francis coach Steve Brooks said in a release. “At the end, we didn’t make shots and they made shots. We also gave them a few critical offensive rebounds that were momentum builders. The momentum shifted and we were never able to get it back.”
St. Francis led just twice in the game, but fended off a number of Dakota Wesleyan scoring runs, clawing back to within one possession at several points.
The Saints fell behind, 48-40, with eight minutes remaining in the game before St. Francis seniors Ivana Markovic and Nichole Davidson combined to score the game’s next six points to get the Saints right back into the fray.
“Both Ivana and Nichole really bought into the culture we are trying to build, a mindset of pursuing excellence both on and off the court,” Brooks said. “Part of being a senior is progressing in the program as a leader, and I think both Ivana and Nichole have done that.”
But despite getting right back into the mix, the Saints couldn’t sustain it and were outscored 15-3 in yet another Dakota Wesleyan scoring run. Sarah Carr and Kynedi Cheesman keyed the run with Carr scoring all of her 17 points in the second half, while Cheesman finished with a game-high 28 points.
Kaitlin Aylward paced the Saints with 12 points while Davidson added 10 points.
“I’m really proud of them,” Brooks said. “We had to overcome a lot throughout the year, and I felt the kids really responded to what needed to be done. I am grateful for how they responded. We were in just about every game.”
This was St. Francis’ second defeat at the hands of Dakota Wesleyan this season; the Saints fell to the Tigers, 74-51, on Dec. 21.