Of all the teams competing at the NJCAA Division II Women's Basketball Championship, Moraine Valley had the fortune to face a rival they're familiar with. In the second game of the consolation round, the Cyclones met Region IV rival South Suburban College, defeating the Bulldogs for a second time this season, 78-66.
The Bulldogs were looking to redeem themselves after suffering a 72-55 loss to the Cyclones on Feb. 16. But the Cyclones weren't ready to go home yet. The intensity was high for both teams, taking two minutes before anyone scored. Kate Ruzevich was slid a pass to get her team on the board first, and they never relinquished the lead.
Although this wasn't the smoothest game the Cyclones have played this year, they moved the ball around like they've done, in particular the easy transfer from Hennessey Handy, who led in scoring (19 points), to Julia and Kate Ruzevich (15 points, seven rebounds). By the end of the first quarter, the Cyclones led 19-12. Both teams were missing enough shots to balance each other out, but Moraine Valley still led 30-22 at the half.
Some rebound stylings from Erin Greenfield and key free throws from her, Julia Ruzevich, Handy and Ashley Hunter (17 points) helped extend the lead in the third quarter to 53-41. For most of the second half, the Cyclones held a comfortable double-digit lead until 3:20 left in the game when they were carried away in the moment from the Bulldogs' fighting spirit. However, it wasn't enough to unnerve this motivated Cyclone crew.
"I expected South Suburban to play tougher than the last time we met. Their defense was at a heightened level. In the first half, they dominated the intensity levels, knocking our ball out of bounds," said Head Coach Delwyn Jones. "Part of my halftime talk was that they were out wanting us. I said we had to get to the point where we wanted it more. I'm happy with our determination to not let South Suburban out want us for the second half. It does take some resiliency."
With this win, the Cyclones have one more game to claim a seventh place finish overall in the nation. This wasn't what they initially had in mind when they first got down to Harrison, Arkansas, but ending the season on a win isn't too bad.
"We had high expectations coming in with a 32-1 record. With that first loss down here, we had a little zest taken out. But we've been fighting all year long. This team is great. They found their inner strength," Jones said. "We've never had a team finish the season with a win. That's big if we win tomorrow."
"I think this game went pretty well. We came to play our third and fourth quarter because we wanted it," said Julia Ruzevich, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. "We're excited to continue our journey tomorrow. Coming home with a seventh place finish is breaking records and making history at Moraine Valley."
The Cyclones face No. 15 seed Wayne County College (Detroit, Michigan) tomorrow at noon.