It was a bit of déjà vu for the Elgin Community College women's basketball team Thursday afternoon, although the final result took until the final seconds to decide.
The Spartans got off to slow start for the second straight day before making a valiant second-half comeback that fell just short in the end as they lost to Lake Michigan College 58-56 in the consolation bracket of the NJCAA Division II national tournament in East Peoria.
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ECC, which was in the national finals for the first time, finished the season 26-8.
The Spartans fell behind 41-20 at halftime and trailed by as many as 23 points before storming back and outscoring fifth-seeded Lake Michigan 36-17 in the second half.
"We're very disappointed," said ECC coach Jerry McLaughlin. "The first half killed us again. We didn't have a high energy level. In a tournament like this you can't dig yourself a 20-point hole. It was great to get here but I can't explain the lack of energy in the first half two days in a row."
Freshman Megan Fasanella of Dundee-Crown led the Spartans with 18 points. Sophomore Alex Dumoulin of Hampshire added 13 points and 13 rebounds, while sophomore Carly Saraceno of Downers Grove South had 10 points. Sophomore point guard Gianina Estocado had 6 points and 8 rebounds but the Hampshire product had to leave the game with 17 seconds to play after being hit in the head. Dumoulin also spent the last 10 minutes of the first half on the bench with three fouls.
"That really hurt," McLaughlin said of losing Estocado with the Spartans trailing 56-54. "And Alex hasn't been in foul trouble like that in a long time."
Down 54-40 with just over five minutes left in the game, the 13th-seeded Spartans went on a 16-4 run to end the game and closed to within 56-54 on a long 3-pointer from Fasanella with 47 seconds left. The Spartans then took possession with 17 seconds left after a Lake Michigan missed shot, but ECC turned the ball over with 11 seconds to go and Lake Michigan's JaBria Hill made 2 free throws with 6.7 seconds left to seal the win for the Red Hawks (26-7).
"We had a shot to win it or tie it and we threw the ball away," lamented McLaughlin.
The Spartans shot just 30 percent for the game, gave up 17 fast-break points and were outrebounded 61-51. ECC also had 18 turnovers.
"We weren't making shots and they were pretty athletic," McLaughlin said. "I just don't have the answers why we were down 41-20 at halftime. When we do well is when we make shots and have a high level of energy.
"The positive side is we never gave up. We're a team that will keep going to the end of the game. But if we come to play with any energy at all in the first half we wouldn't have been in that situation."
The first-half struggles were tough for Dumoulin to put a finger on as well.
"We were pretty motivated today. I just can't explain what happened," she said. "The second half we came around and never gave up and I'm very proud of this team. It was definitely a privilege to do what we did. We never took anything for granted and it's a real thrill to be where we're at right now. We're disappointed in the outcome but it's been a thrill to be a part of this team."
"We were conference champs and winning the region tournament was a big deal for us," McLaughlin said. "I just wish we had performed here with more energy."