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Ft. Hays State Edges St. Mary’s 70-66

San Antonio – Natalie Gamez led a furious second-half comeback by St. Mary’s University, but Fort Hays State University held off the Rattlers for an exciting 70-66 win to wrap up the second day of the St. Mary’s University Rattler Tip-Off Classic in women’s basketball action Saturday night at Bill Greehey Arena.

Gamez (Jr., San Antonio) hit on 9-of-15 shots from the field, including 5-of-9 from three-point range to lead all scorers with 25 points. She played 37 of 40 minutes in the game. Joining her in double figures was Charlena Rodez (Sr., Cedar Park) with 14 points and Ashton Benford (So., Waxahachie) and Dawn Killian (Sr., San Antonio) with 11 points apiece.

Fort Hays led by as much as 11 points in the second half, including a 63-52 lead with just 5:11 left in the contest. However, the Rattlers started to claw back into the game soon after that. Rodez hit a short turnaround jumper with 4:53 left to cut the deficit to single digits. Benford made one of two free throws to make the margin eight. Rodez then pick-pocketed Meshia Mason and took the ball in for a lay-up to cut the FHSU lead to six at 63-57 with 3:05 to play.

Rodez cut further into the lead with a jumper, but Ashlee Gustin responded with a short jumper of her own to put the lead back at six with 2:29 to play. Killian made a pair of free throws with 2:09 left to put the deficit back at four, then Benford took in a lob pass and laid the ball in to put St. Mary’s within two at 65-63. After Briana Willhite made one of two free throws to increase the lead to three, Gamez responded with the final of her five treys to tie things at 69-69 with just 31 seconds left. But Gustin came back with a lay-up with 12 seconds left and when Juanita Merchant (Sr., Angleton) missed a three-pointer with four seconds left, FHSU had the win.

Gustin led FHSU with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and pulled down six rebounds as well. Naomi Bancroft came off the bench to score 14 points, while Katie Rausch had 10.

With the win Fort Hays won the tournament title with a 2-0 record. St. Mary’s and Central Missouri tied for second with 1-1 marks, while Texas A&M-Kingsville was fourth with a 0-2 record. Making the all-tournament team was Jasmine June of TAMUK, Megan Fromm of Central Missouri, Gamez, Katie Rush of Fort Hays State and Gustin, who was named tournament MVP.

With the loss the Rattlers fell to 1-1 on the season, while FHSU improved to 3-0. St. Mary’s will return to action on Tuesday when they host Southeastern Oklahoma State University at 6 p.m. at Bill Greehey Arena.

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