A slow start doomed the Elgin Community College women's basketball team in a tournament-opening loss at the NJCAA Division II national finals in East Peoria on Wednesday.
ECC dominated the final 23 minutes against St. Clair County Community College of Port Huron, Mich., but the 31-9 hole the Spartans dug for themselves through 17 minutes resulted in a 71-62 defeat, snapping a 13-game winning streak.
"I can't explain it," ECC coach Jerry McLaughlin said of the sluggish start. "First time here and we just didn't come to play our type of basketball. It took eight or 10 minutes before they woke up. I just can't explain it."
McLaughlin was forced to burn his second timeout with 15:07 left in the first half after St. Clair jumped to a 14-4 lead.
"I think I used enough timeouts without overusing our timeouts," he said. "Then it finally clicked and we went on a run."
ECC closed the first half on an 11-0 run to draw within 39-28, fueled by sophomore co-captain Alex Dumoulin, who scored 15 of her game-high 22 points in the first half.
The Spartans then scored the first 5 points of the second half, pulling within 39-33 on Carly Saraceno's 3-pointer. Twice in the second half they trimmed what had once been a 22-point deficit to 4 points --the last instance courtesy of 2 Saraceno free throws with 8:12 to play.
"We finally realized it was time to pick it up," said Saraceno, who finished with 13 points and 2 steals.
No. 4 St. Clair (31-1) quickly scored from the post and sank a 3-pointer to restore a 9-point lead with 6:26 to play, but No. 13 ECC (26-7) stayed within striking distance until the final minute.
The Spartans had the ball, trailing 67-62 with 1:26 left, but an Alex Dumoulin fast-break layup attempt that would have made it a 1-possession game rolled off the rim. St. Clair countered with a second-chance basket to regain a 7-point lead, and the Skippers sank enough free throws down the stretch to pull away.
"At the end of the game, we started missing free throws and I missed some easy shots I could have made," said Dumoulin, who played all 40 minutes and grabbed 7 rebounds. "But I can honestly say that we never gave up. I'm just so proud of the girls and their effort and their willingness to go above and beyond to try to come out with a win."
"We're just hoping that we can come out and keep playing. That's what we're going to try to do."
Megan Fasanella finished with 11 points and 3 rebounds, and co-captain Gianina Estocado delivered 9 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals for the Spartans, who play in the consolation bracket against Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Lake Michigan College (25-7) today at 1 p.m. South Suburban College of South Holland defeated Lake Michigan College 75-61.
"The season's not over," McLaughlin said. "We have to come back and redeem ourselves by playing for 40 minutes."