The St. Mary’s men’s and women’s basketball teams won their respective Heartland Conference Championship Tournaments Saturday night to give both teams their second Heartland Conference titles and their second bids to the NCAA Division II National Tournament. The Rattler men defeated Incarnate Word 57-47 at home while the Rattler women picked up a 83-81 victory on the road over #14 Drury.
During the first two years of the Heartland Conference there was no post-season tournament to decide the conference championship, so the regular season leaders were the official conference champions. The Rattler men were regular season co-champs in 2001 and the Rattler women posted a 10-0 conference mark in 2002. The 2001 men’s team and 2002 women’s team advanced to the D-II tournament on at-large bids; 2003 is the first year that the Heartland Champions received automatic bids.
Men’s Heartland Conference Tournament Finals: #1 St. Mary’s 57, #3 Incarnate Word 47. Sparked by 15 points from freshman phenom Ben McCain and five-of-five second-half free-throw shooting by Pedro Brito, the St. Mary’s men’s basketball team defeated Incarnate Word 57-47 to win the Heartland tournament. It was Buddy’s Boys third victory of the season over the Crusaders — the second in two weeks on the Rattlers’ home court. After Incarnate Word rallied to take a 17-11 lead with 6:50 left in the first, the Rattlers mounted a 7-0 run to lead 18-17 with 4:05 left. St. Mary’s led 24-21 at halftime. The Crusaders tied the game at 27 at the 15:15 mark in the second, but St. Mary’s slowly pulled ahead to lead 41-31 off Brito’s layup at the seven minute mark. Athough UIW stayed in the game, Anthony Weeak’s trey with two minutes left gave the Rattlers’ their second 10-point lead of the game. McCain scored 12 of his 15 points in the scond half and Brito scored nine of his 11 in the second. Ky O’Dell also finished with 11 points for the Rattlers. D’ Hudson led the Crusaders with 15.
Women’s Heartland Conference Tournament Finals: #2 St. Mary’s 83, #1 Drury 81. St. Mary’s scored the last six points of the game, rallying past Drury to win the Heartland Conference Championship and a trip to the D-II National Tournament. The Rattlers had led by eleven during the first half but found themselves down 81-77 with 1:21 left. Neno Anguiano was fouled on a succesful layup with 35 seconds left and converted the free-throw cutting the deficit to one, 81-80. Meosha Nash’s layup with 19 seconds left put St. Mary’s up by one, 82-81. Erin Griffin added a late free throw to push the final margin to two. Anguiano ended the night with 20 points and Griffin added 19 points – all scored in the second half – and 10 rebounds. Amanda Newton led #14 Drury with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
Men’s Heartland Conference Tournament Semi-Finals: #1 St. Mary’s 69, #4 Drury 64. It was a game of alternating scoring runs as the Rattlers twice built nine-point leads in the second half only to see Drury twice stage comebacks. But St. Mary’s outlasted the Panthers down the stretch to win by five. The Rattlers had held a 14-point lead, 26-12, with 8:18 left in the first half but Drury went on a 23-12 scoring run to pull within three at intermission, 38-35. The Rattlers and Panthers twice traded scoring runs in the second half, resulting in a 58-58 tie with 6:19 left. St. Mary’s pulled-ahead for good off when a Ben McCain field goal with 4:05 left gave them a two-point lead, 62-60. Anthony Weeaks hit a free-thow with 10 seconds left to set the final margin, 69-64. McCain led all scorers with 29 points; he hit 13 of 17 field goal attempts and was 3 of 3 from the line. Chris Mortellaro led Drury with 16 points and Matt Engstrom added 15.
Women’s Heartland Conference Tournament Semi-Finals: #2 St. Mary’s 68, #3 Lincoln 55. Sparked by Erin Griffin’s 11 points and seven rebounds in the second half, the Rattlers built a 43-40 halftime lead into a 13-point victory. Griffin finished the night with 25 points and 13 rebounds. Meosha Nash and Martha Brinker added 17 points each for St. Mary’s. It was a defensive challenge for both teams after intermission as Lincoln was held to just five of 22 field goal shooting and the Rattlers to just eight of 25 in the second half. Ingvild Hjartaker, who led the Blue Tigers with 13 points, was held to just 3 points in the second half.