If you were in the Ramsey Center Saturday night, you could that the Lady Catamount basketball team gave everything they had. They battled the Georgia Southern Eagles to the end and left everything they had on the court, but came out on the short end of the scoreboard, 76-71.
The loss dropped Western Carolina below .500 for the first time this season and their record to 7-8 overall, 1-5 in the Southern Conference.
Georgia Southern took control of the game early using an 8-2 run over a three minute span to take a 12-6 lead. The Eagles went down inside early and often to increase that lead to 11 at 22-11 with just 8:35 left in the half.
However, it was senior April Fleck who hit several big shots for WCU, including three, three-pointers down the stretch to keep the Lady Cats in the game as the trailed 38-31 at the break.
Western Carolina came out of the locker room like a team determined to win the game. The Lady Cats got within three at 38-35, but both Janetta Heggins and junior Laura Echols picked up their third foul in the first three minutes of the second half. Echols stayed in the game and picked up her fourth foul at the 16:10 mark.
With the team’s, and conferences, leading scorer going to the bench and down by seven points, WCU could have easily folded, but the exact opposite occurred. At the 14:08 mark the Lady Cats were down 48-37, but turned things around from that point. The team started forcing turnovers and getting key contributions from several players, one of which was freshman Tiffany Hamm.
Fleck and Heggins also made some key baskets during a 15-3 Lady Cat run that put them on top for the first time since early in the game at 52-51. However, Georgia Southern came right back down the floor and scored and drew the fourth foul on Hamm.
Things looked to get better when Echols came off the bench at the 8:29 mark, but the Lady Eagles went down inside and drew the fifth foul on Echols less than two minutes later. She fouled out and was held to a season low four points.
Senior Kris Kent at the 6:49 mark and scored six points and came up with a couple of steals down the stretch. She finished with eight points and three steals.
With 2:12 remaining, the game was knotted at 65. The Lady Eagles forced a Lady Cat turnover and drew a foul in the next two possessions and took a 69-65 lead. Yet, GSU, who leads the Southern Conference in free throw percentage, connected on five of their final six free throw attempts to stop the Western Carolina comeback
The Lady Cats sorely missed Echol’s scoring, along with her floor leadership. But head coach Beth Dunkenberger praised the contribution from her young players as well as her bench.
“I think Jackie Stepp, Kris Kent and Tiffany Hamm all stepped up down the stretch. They did it by playing good team defense and making plays on the offensive end,” Dunkenberger said.
She added, “When we lose a game we got to learn from out mistakes so we don’t repeat ourselves.”
Fleck led all scorers with 21 points to go along with seven rebounds and four steals. She also went 4-for-5 from three-point range. Hamm and Heggins also hit double digits, finishing with 15 and 14, respectively. Heggins was 8-of-10 from the floor.
Georgia Southern placed three players in double figures led by junior Danna Simpson who scored 16 points.
On Thursday night, WCU battled the Lady Panthers from Georgia State, but lost a hard fought game, 76-65. Again the Lady Cats came out hot in the first half, shooting 58% from the field. They carried a 39-31 lead into the locker room.
Fleck led the way in the first half with 10 points and went 4-for-4 from the field and five steals. She finished with 20 points and six steals for the game. Western came up with 12 steals before intermission.
However, it was the Lady Panthers who turned up the defense and the game around in the second half. They came out and outscored WCU 17-4 in the first few minutes and had a 48-43 lead with 12:22 left. The Lady Panther full court pressure also forced several Lady Cat turnovers and took them out of their offensive scheme. Foul trouble plagued Western as their “Twin Towers” Echols and Hamm had to go to the bench mid way through the half as they each picked up their fourth foul.
However, the rest of the team did not give up and got within three points after Christy Blackwell’s lay up with 3:49 to play. That was the closest that Western got as Georgia State used a 16-8 run the rest of the way.
Echols and sophomore Marsha McGillivary each scored 12 points
The Lady Cats hit the road for three games. They take on College of Charleston on Saturday January 20 and will conclude the road trip in Boone on January 23 as they face mountain rival Appalachian State. The Lady Cats are 6-2 on the road this season.