The Cardinals of Catholic University is nothing new to the Lady Royals. The game featured seven lead changes and nine ties before the Lady Royals were able to pull away late in the second half.
The game also featured the top two leading scorers of the Landmark Conference; Scranton’s junior forward Meredith Mesaris, who averages 18.7 points per game, and Catholic’s senior guard Emily Grabiak, who averages 16.8 points per game.
The Lady Royals moved into first place in the Landmark Conference after a 77-66 win over two-time defending conference champions Catholic University Saturday at the DuFour Center in Washington, D.C.
First-year forward Sarah Payonk led the Lady Royals with 19 points. Mesaris had 16 points and junior guard Lindsay Fluehr had seven points, six assists and five rebounds.
“It was a really physical game and back and forth. We were down by one at half time and that’s what usually happens with two competitive games,” Fluehr said.
Senior guard Alison Sweeney opened the game’s scoring with a three-pointer but then Catholic went on to score the next nine points. The Lady Royals rallied by scoring the next seven. Catholic held a slight lead for a majority of the first half and had the edge 36-35 on the Lady Royals at the half. It was only the second time this season that the Lady Royals have trailed at halftime.
The second half was a battle in which neither team led by more than three points until the final seven minutes.
“There was no sense of panic in any of us. I think everyone was really calm and collected and I think that really helped us from being down at half to come back and win,” Fluehr said.
Head Coach Mike Strong said he did his best to encourage his squad throughout the game.
“I was kind of encouraging them the whole game to step it up. I didn’t break any clipboards and I didn’t raise my voice much, I just said that they had to execute better,” Strong said.
The Lady Royals scored 13 points while giving up only two in the final seven minutes of play. Catholic’s Jayni Webster hit a three pointer with 6:58 remaining in the game to tie the score at 64. The most timely basket came at the 3:52 mark when Payonk shot and made her first three-point attempt this season to put the Lady Royals up 72-66.
“I’m extremely happy about the way we finished. We held them without a field goal for a 4-6 minute stretch,” Strong said. “We definitely kept our composure. We made good offensive plays, good decisions and we went to the free throw line and converted. It’s what a winning team needs to do,” he added.
After the win, Scranton now stands alone while Moravian College and Catholic are tied in second.
“It’s huge, especially being at Catholic; it means we don’t have to go back there for semifinals or the championship. It gives a big boost of confidence moving forward,” Fluehr said.
The Lady Royals traveled to Moravian Wednesday night where they handed the second place Greyhounds their third conference loss of the season. Although Scranton led by as many as 14 in the first half, the match between the first and second place teams had the fans on edge.
The Greyhounds were able to come within four points as the Lady Royals led 34-30 at halftime.
The game remained close all the way down to the final few seconds. Moravian’s Katie O’Rourke, who had a game-high 23 points sank a three pointer as the buzzer sounded to make the score 70-69 but Scranton came away with the win.
With the win, the Lady Royals are now 12-1 in the Landmark Conference and secured the top seed for the conference playoffs. They are 21-3 overall and will return to action Saturday as they take on the Gophers of Goucher College in their final regular season game.
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