San Antonio – Montana State University-Billings took advantage of a big discrepancy in fouls and pulled away late for a 67-64 win over St. Mary’s University in the first semifinal of the Heartland Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament, played Friday afternoon at the Super Pit on the campus of the University of North Texas.

After trailing by as much as eight points in the first half the Rattlers had rallied to take a three-point lead at the break. But just as in the first half St. Mary’s got off to a slow start and MSUB retook the lead. Alira Carpenter finished off a 9-2 run with a short jumper to give the Yellowjackets a 36-32 lead with 16:05 left to play.

Back came the Rattlers with a 6-0 run of their own, with Lori Ripper picking up a layup on the way as the Rattler retook the lead at 38-36 with 13:44 left. The teams battled back and forth for the next six minutes, with the score tied five times and the lead changing hands twice. Ashton Benford (So., Waxahachie) then gave St. Mary’s a three-point edge at 53-50 with 7:14 left. That was when the difference in fouls caught with the Rattlers.

St. Mary’s was called for more than twice as many fouls as the Yellowjackets (25-12) and when Natalie Gamez (So., San Antonio) and Benford fouled out over the next two minutes, it seemed to take the heart out of the Rattlers. The Yellowjackets took advantage, going on a 10-0 run. Jetton Meadors scored five points during that run, which gave MSUB a 60-53 advantage with 4:36 left to play.

The Rattlers tried to battle back behind senior Charlena Rodez (Sr., Cedar Park). Rodez, playing in her final game with St. Mary’s, overcame a slow start to finish strong. She scored nine of 12 points in the final 4:23 of the game. Her free throws with 1:31 left made it a three-point game at 62-59. She cut the lead to just three again on a layup with 1.9 seconds left to play, but that was as close as the Rattlers would get.

Rodez, Dawn Killian (Sr., San Antonio) and Gamez led the way for the Rattlers with 12 points each. Kyra Woods (Fr., San Antonio) reached double figures in scoring for the first time as a Rattler with 10 points and eight rebounds. As a team the Rattlers shot 44.1 percent (26-59) from the field and outrebounded MSUB 39-32. The Yellowjackets hit on 45.3 percent (24-53), including 56.5 percent (13-23) in the second half.

With the loss St. Mary’s ends the 2006-07 season with a 12-16 overall record. Montana State-Billings improves to 21-9. They will face the winner of the University of the Incarnate Word-St. Edward’s game, played later Friday, in the Heartland Championship game Saturday at 3 p.m.

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