AUSTIN – Natalie Gamez scored seven of her game-high 23 points in overtime as St. Mary’s University capped a big comeback to defeat St. Edward’s University 59-52 in Heartland Conference women’s basketball action Saturday night at the Recreation and Convocation Center.
Gamez (So., San Antonio) single-handedly outscored St. Edward’s, which posted just three points in the five-minute overtime. He hit one-of-two free throws 30 seconds into the extra period to give the Rattlers their first lead of the game at 50-49. Over the next 2:30 the teams would combine to miss all five shots they took and commit three turnovers to keep the score the game. Gamez finally broke that streak when a Cassie Brown foul sent Gamez back to the free throw, where she hit both shots to give the Rattlers a three-point lead.
The Rattlers turned away the Hilltoppers on each of their next two possessions and Gamez came back with a long jump shot to give St. Mary’s a five-point lead with 49 seconds left to play. Hayley Tidwell responded with a three-pointer for SEU, but that was all they would produce and Gamez combined with Juanita Merchant (Jr., Angleton) to hit on 5-of-6 free throws over the last 25 seconds to ice the victory.
Gamez hit on 12-of-13 shots from the free throw line in the game for her fourth 20-point game of the season. No other Rattler reached double figures in scoring, but Ashton Benford (So., Waxahachie) had nine points and nine rebounds, while Merchant had eight points and nine rebounds. The Rattlers hit on just 32.5 percent (13-40) of their shots from the field, but made 30-of-36 free throws in the game, a season best.
The win only came after a furious rally down the stretch in the second half. With 11:07 left to play in regulation the Rattlers trailed by a 40-30 count. From that point they would outscore the Hilltoppers 19-9 to force the extra period. Chastity Noble (Fr., El Paso) made her first field goal of the day to cut the lead to eight. Charlene Rodez (Sr., Cedar Park) followed with a short jumper to cut the deficit to six with 8:33 to play. After the Hilltoppers increased the lead back to eight, Gamez hit on a pair of free throws to make it a six-point game again with 7:47 to play. Merchant then stole the ball from Brown and fed Gamez for a layup to cut the lead to just four points at 42-38. Three free throws by Gamez and Noble made it a one-point game with 5:47 left.
That was when the Hilltoppers found their offensive touch again. They made 5-of-6 free throws and got a layup by Alesheia White to increase their lead to eight at 49-41 with just 2:44 to go. However again the Rattler turned up the defensive pressure, forcing two turnovers and two missed shots on the Hilltoppers final four possessions to keep them scoreless the rest of the way. First Benford hit a layup to cut the lead to six. Then Dawn Killian (Sr., San Antonio) made two free throws to make it a four-point game with 1:41 to play. Game hit two more free throws and Benford made a jump shot with 22 seconds left to force overtime.
The Rattlers improved to 6-11 overall and 2-1 in Heartland Conference play with the win. SEU fell to 3-13, 2-2. St. Mary’s will return to action on Wednesday when they travel to Billings, Mont., to face preseason favorite Montana State University-Billings in a key Heartland Conference matchup at 5:30 p.m.