(Posted March 1, 2008)

SCRANTON, Pa. -- If the Juniata College women's basketball team was nervous about playing a team for a conference championship that it hadn't beaten in 16 years, it sure didn't show. The Eagles rebounded from a 26-18 halftime deficit to dominate the University of Scranton in the second half, but came up one basket short in a 52-50 loss to the Lady Royals in the Landmark Conference championship game on Saturday evening at the John J. Long, S.J., Center in Scranton, Pa. Kelly Ashcraft (Bellefonte, Pa./State College) scored 14 of her game-high 20 points in the second half, including four straight layups in an 8-0 Eagle run that pulled Juniata into a 35-31 lead with 12:55 remaining. The two teams traded the lead twice and were tied twice over the next seven minutes, and the game was deadlocked at 43-43 as the clock passed the five minute mark. A free throw by Scranton's Colleen McLane allowed the Royals to take a 44-43 lead, but Kelly Rotan (Atco, N.J./Hammonton) responded with a layup that put Juniata ahead 45-44 with 4:21 left on the clock. Scranton retook the lead at the 3:57 mark on a layup by Molly Klusek, and padded its advantage with additional baskets by Kathleen Daly and Klusek. Ali Meckey (Ebensburg, Pa./Bishop Carroll) hit the first of two foul shots to cut the Royal lead to five points, with Claudia McDowell's (Alexandria, Pa./Juniata Valley) layup with 1:26 to play and a pair of foul shots by Ashcraft 23 seconds later reducing Scranton's advantage to one point, 51-50. A missed jumper by Klusek was rebounded by Jen Hnatuck (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Trinity), returning possession to Juniata with 30 seconds remaining, but Hnatuck missed her attempt at the go-ahead field goal with 15 seconds on the clock. The Royals' Megan Kopecki grabbed the rebound and was promptly fouled by Jill Walsh (Johnstown, Pa./Ferndale). Kopecki made her first free throw but missed the second, with the shot rebounded by Ashcraft with 13 seconds remaining. Juniata set up Hnatuck for a game-tying field goal attempt from the right side, but her seven-foot jumper caromed away as the horn sounded. Ashcraft was the only Juniata player to finish in double-figures with 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field. McDowell tallied nine points with 10 rebounds, and Hnatuck had a team-high 11 rebounds with seven points. The Eagles committed 23 turnovers leading to 25 points for the Royals, and Scranton's 15-9 advantage on the offensive glass translated to 18 second-chance points. Kathleen Daly tallied 22 points to pace Scranton offensively, with Michelle Fabio and Klusak finishing with eight points. The win marked Scranton's 20th conference women's basketball championship in school history. Juniata will now wait to see if it receives a bid for the ECAC Tournament; selections for that tournament will be announced sometime late Monday. -30-

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