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Women's basketball clinches Landmark tourney berth with win over Merchant Marine

(Posted February 15, 2009)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Juniata College clinched a berth in the 2009 Landmark Conference Women's Basketball Tournament on Sunday, with a 67-58 win over the United States Merchant Marine Academy.

Juniata (14-10, 8-5 Landmark) is tied with Susquehanna University (16-8, 8-5 Landmark) for third place in the league standings, with the two squads facing each other next Saturday, Feb. 21, in Huntingdon, to close out the 2008-09 regular season. The winner of the Juniata-Susquehanna contest will earn the third seed and travel to Moravian College for the tournament semifinals, while the loser will receive the fourth seed and head to Scranton to face the Lady Royals.

"Who would've thought that a team that was 1-4 at one point would be making the playoffs," said Juniata head coach Danny Young-Uhrich. "I'm happy for our seniors and I'm happy for our young kids that we're back in it. This game was big today, and we'll see what happens on Saturday and then next Wednesday."

The Eagles had to survive a few challenges from a feisty Merchant Marine squad, whose own post-season chances hinged on posting an upset over Juniata.

Juniata trailed Merchant Marine by 12 points at the intermission, after a rollercoaster of a first half. The Mariners went on a 10-0 run early in the half, and posted an 18-6 lead with 10:53 remaining in the opening frame. However the Mariner lead evaporated with a 10-0 run by the Eagles, and the game was knotted at 20-20 with 5:17 showing in the first half.

Another 13-2 surge by Merchant Marine in the final minutes of the first half saw the Mariner advantage reach 33-22, before USMMA went into the locker room at the break with a 36-24 lead.

Merchant Marine (12-12, 5-8 Landmark) still held a 49-39 lead with approximately 10 minutes remaining in the second half, when Juniata began to make its move. The Eagles went on a 19-2 run, using the formula that has proven to be their most successful - a balanced scoring attack. Five different players scored during the decisive run, led by junior Kelly Rotan (Atco, N.J./Hammonton) with five points out of her game total of eight. That run put the Eagles in front 58-51, with just 2:48 remaining in regulation.

Senior Claudia McDowell (Alexandria, Pa./Juniata Valley) tallied four points during the run, on her way to a game-high 22 points. Fellow senior Kelly Ashcraft (Bellefonte, Pa./State College Area) also contributed four points during the Eagles' final drive, and finished the night with 12 points.

Juniata controlled the tempo the rest of the way, and went 8-of-11 at the free throw line over the last three minutes to preserve the victory.

"I think the confidence that we had from when we went down there and went on that 17-0 run to end the game was in the back of our minds," said Young. "At halftime we had to chill them out a little bit, because they were a little uptight - the implications of the game were very serious."

"They showed composure for the first time all year. They never pressed the panic button, and instead they clawed back and kept chipping away. They showed patience by a veteran group out there today," said Young.

Freshman Brittany Ryder (Lancaster, Pa./Lancaster Catholic) added 12 points to the Juniata cause, while sophomore Jen Hnatuck (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Trinity) had eight points with a game-high nine rebounds. Juniata helped itself with a 22-of-25 performance at the stripe, with three misses in the final 30 seconds spoiling the potential perfect mark at the line.

Merchant Marine had three players in double figures, led by Kristen Hetsko with 17 points. May Marie Mayes tallied 14 points with eight boards, while Stephanie Waller chipped in with 11 points.

Juniata closes out the regular season next Saturday, as the Eagles host Susquehanna University at 5:30 p.m. in Huntingdon.

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.