DENTON – Tournament Most Valuable Player Natalie Gamez scored 15 points as 24th-ranked St. Mary’s University held off a determined St. Edward’s University squad, 43-37, to win the Heartland Conference Women’s Basketball Championship Saturday afternoon at the Super Pitt on the campus of the University of North Texas.
Both teams struggled in the first half, scoring a combined 10 points over the first eight minutes of the game. Finally the Rattlers broke out of the doldrums, going on a 10-2 run to take a 16-6 lead with 4:43 left in the first half on a pair of free throws by Gamez (Jr., San Antonio). However, the Hilltoppers rallied and an Aleisheia White jumper at the buzzer cut the St. Mary’s lead to just four at 18-14 at the half.
St. Edward’s started the second half by outscoring the Rattlers 8-4 to tie the game at 22-22. However, Gamez led the Rattlers on a 13-1 run to take a 35-23 lead with 10:16 left to play. Again the Hilltoppers rallied and a Whitney Regian jumper with 2:48 left cut the lead to just four at 39-35. But the Rattlers, who struggled from the free throw line all game, got a pair from Gamez and an Ashton Benford (Jr., San Antonio) lay-up to clinch the win.
The Rattlers used a stifling defense that allowed the Hilltoppers to make just 18.9 percent (10-53) from the field and held SEU to no three pointers made in 12 attempts. St. Mary’s also forced 19 turnovers. Sara Head was the only Hilltopper to score in double figures with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
After struggling from the field in the first half, the Rattlers picked up their shooting the second half, hitting on 38.5 percent (10-26) in the second period. St. Mary’s made three three-point baskets in the game. Gamez led all players with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Mallory Moeller (Fr., Seguin) scored seven points and pulled down 11 rebounds.
The tournament title for the Rattlers is the second in three years and the third in the eight-year history of the Heartland Conference. St. Mary’s picked up its 24th straight win, increasing their school record and are now 25-3 overall. St. Edward’s saw its season come to an end with a 12-16 record.
St. Mary’s will now have to wait to see what is next. Sunday night at 10:30 p.m. the NCAA will announce the teams that will compete in the NCAA South Central Region Tournament. The Rattlers, who were ranked 7th in the region in the latest poll, will likely be in the field.
Heartland Conference All-Tournament Team
Megan Hamilton, Oklahoma Panhandle State
Hayley Harvey, Incarnate Word
Sara Head, St. Edward’s
Alesheia White, St. Edward’s
Ashton Benford, St. Mary’s
Rachel Jones, St. Mary’s
Most Valuable Player: Natalie Gamez, St. Mary’s