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posted: 1/20/2010 12:01 AM

St. Francis can't dig out of hole

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It's a broken record for St. Francis this season that's not playing sweet music in coach Jeff Gerdeman's ears.

The Spartans dug an early hole that they could not climb out of in a 43-37 loss to Chicago Christian on Tuesday at Spyglass Center.

Down 9-2 right out of the chute and 31-22 heading into the fourth quarter, a late St. Francis surge cut the margin as close as 3.

"Story of our season," Gerdeman said. "We dig a hole and we fight back. We're just coming up on the short end of things."

St. Francis (7-13, 1-5 Suburban Christian Conference) dropped its fourth straight game after a win over Walther Lutheran on Dec. 30 at the Lisle tournament. It was also the second time in 12 days the Spartans lost a close call to Chicago Christian, after a 57-52 defeat in overtime in Palos Heights.

Chicago Christian (10-11, 2-4), conversely, has been on a roll in January. The first-year conference addition has beaten St. Francis twice, Wheaton Academy by a point and St. Edward in the new year.

"St. Francis has for years had pretty good basketball," Chicago Christian coach Brad Engbers said, "so anytime you can get a couple wins against them you're pretty pleased. January's been very good for us. We went in thinking we'd have some very competitive games, and they have been competitive games. We've played a good fourth quarters of basketball, and you need that against good teams."

After a tough three quarters offensively, St. Francis came alive in the fourth. A Kelly McShea 3-pointer started the comeback and a basket by Fiona McMahon followed by another McShea trifecta made it 37-34 with 2:12 left.

A Spartans turnover and a pair of McShea misses from deep kept St. Francis from cutting closer. McMahon scored to make it 40-37 with 30 seconds left, but after a Chicago Christian turnover in the backcourt Katie Slavin missed a runner. Down 41-37 moments later, a McShea 3-point attempt rimmed out.

McShea scored 11 points for St. Francis. McMahon added 11 points and 9 rebounds, but after a turnaround jumper on the first possession of the game the Spartans' leading scorer was held to 1 free throw until the fourth quarter.

"We were rushing things in the first half," Gerdeman said. "We told them in the second half just to slow things down, set things up and make sure we got the ball inside. In the first half we just weren't running our sets."

Slavin had 9 points and Morgan Connelly 10 rebounds for St. Francis. Lindsey Norway scored 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers to touch off a 7-0 Chicago Christian run to end the first half up 25-14.

"Our girls fight and they scrap - I never question their heart," Gerdeman said. "But at critical times the ball doesn't bounce our way and we're falling short. But we're going to keep working at it and stay positive."