The Red Devil women's basketball team put their names into Eureka College history when they won the institution's first ever St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) Tournament Championship, defeating Greenville College 82-74 in front of their home crowd.
After winning the program's first ever SLIAC regular season title and the #1 seed for the conference tournament the Red Devils completed their task by fending off Greenville in the championship game on Saturday, delighting the fans who packed The Bonati Bollwinkle Arena.
The top-seeded Red Devils jumped out in front early thanks to guard Hayley Reneau's hot-hand. Reneau knocked down four three-pointers in the opening quarter, finishing with 13 points in the opening frame and giving Eureka a 23-18 lead.
But the defending SLIAC Tournament Champions, the Panthers of Greenville, fought their way back with an impressive second quarter in which they slowed the Red Devil offense down; out scoring them 21-12 to take a 39-35 lead into the break. The Panthers used a 13-0 to start the second quarter and benefited from knocking down five first-half three-pointers.
However in the second-half the three-pointers stopped falling for Greenville, allowing Eureka to take control once again. After connecting on 5-of-12 three-pointers in the first-half, Greenville hit on just 1-of-7 in the second-half including missing five straight. During their three-point drought the Panthers also committed five turnovers over a three minute stretch early in the third quarter, after turning the ball over just five times in the entire first-half, culminating with the Red Devils taking the lead back.
Greenville led 45-39 mid-way through the third quarter when their turnovers proved costly. Red Devil guard Kerrigan Dura seized the momentum for Eureka when she knocked down back to back three's to give Eureka a 49-47 lead, their first lead since the 9:20 mark of the second quarter.
Panther guards Claire Schmitt and Taylor Paulin helped stop the Panthers slide with back to back hustle plays that led to the Panthers grabbing the lead once again. After a missed jumper Schmitt saved the ball along the baseline, throwing it behind her back to a teammate and allowing the Panthers to maintain possession. On the same trip Paulin dove on a loose ball after a long rebound, tying it up for a jump ball and again allowing the Panthers to retain possession. Moments later forward Laura Goodnight hit a jumper from the top of the key to put the Panthers up 51-49 with 1:00 remaining in the quarter.
However that would be the final lead for the Panthers in the game as guard Luci Weis led the Red Devil charge. Weis knocked down a three-pointer on the next Eureka trip down the court to put the Red Devils up 52-51. Eureka would turn that momentum into an 11 point lead mid-way through the final quarter but the game was not decided quite yet as the defending champions made another push.
Greenville closed their deficit to two points, at 69-67, with 2:50 remaining after Kelly Lenz knocked down a pair of free-throws. But it was Weis once again who sparked the Red Devils with back to back layups, including completing an and-one on her second basket. Weis would end up scoring 7 of her team's final 13 points in the game as the Red Devils held a comfortable two possession lead down the stretch.
Kerrigan Dura finished with a game-high 18 points, adding five assists with just one turnover, for Eureka while being named the SLIAC Tournament Most Valuable Player. Reneau finished with 16 points while Weis added 15 points in just 14 minutes off the bench. Eureka shot 42-percent for the game and benefited from 18 second-chance points off 17 offensive rebounds.
Greenville was led Schmitt's 16 points while Goodnight and Lenz each chipped in with 15 points. The Panthers shot 44-percent in the game but were unable to overcome their poor second-half three-point shooting.
Greenville finishes the season at 18-9 overall while Eureka improves to 20-7 overall. Eureka now awaits the NCAA Division III Selection Show which will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, February 27.