Valparaiso fought back from a pair of double-figure deficits, but in the end it was not enough as the Crusaders dropped a 62-59 decision to Western Illinois on Monday night in Macomb, Ill.
The Crusaders fell behind from the beginning, as the Westerwinds scored the game's first 11 points. Valpo fought back to within three, 11-8, before Western pushed the lead back to 19-8 with 11:50 remaining in the first half. A 15-5 Crusader spurt, keyed by five points by Suzie Hammel (Lafayette, Ind./Lebanon H.S.) pulled the Brown and Gold within one. Hammel's first point of the game made her the tenth Crusader in school history to reach 1,000 for her career.
The host's lead grew back to six before nine straight points, six by Jamie Gutowski (Crown Point, Ind./Andrean H.S.) gave Valpo its only lead of the game, 34-31, with 1:27 to play before intermission. A Westerwind free throw and a three-pointer by Erica Zielinski with 17 seconds remaining before halftime gave Western Illinois a 35-34 lead at intermission.
Western came out of the locker room scoring 11 of the first 13 points to build a 46-36 advantage with 16:00 to play before Valpo rallied yet again. Nine straight Crusader points, capped off by a Katie Boone (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove H.S.) three-pointer brought the Brown and Gold to within one with 11:46 remaining. Western scored the next six points to go back in front by seven, but Valpo cut the lead back to two with 5:05 to play, 56-54.
Boone hit another three with 2:05 remaining to pull within 60-57, but Valpo could not get any closer, committing four turnovers in the final two minutes. The Crusaders turned the ball over 15 times in the second half.
Gutowski led the Crusaders with 15 points, while Betsy Rietema (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) added 12 points and eight rebounds. Boone added 11 points, while Hammel and Kathryn Knoester (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) each scored eight.
Tiffany Cornelius led Western Illinois (13-7, 7-2 Mid-Con) with 17 points and 13 rebounds, six on the offensive end. She also registered four steals. Rita Castans added 11 points and dished out five assists, while Zane Teilane added ten points and seven boards.
Western held a 38-27 advantage on the boards in the game, 17-8 offensively, while Valpo made 19-of-22 (86.4%) from the free throw line.
Valpo (11-10, 6-4) will return to action on Saturday evening, as the Crusaders make their first trip to Shreveport, La. to battle Centenary. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.