The Valparaiso women’s basketball team trailed by as many as 15 in the first half, but they battled back and went on to pick up a 67-59 win over Youngstown State in the Crusaders’ Horizon League opener on Saturday afternoon at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Valparaiso has now won three-straight games and improved to 5-1 at the ARC.
Trailing 48-43 with just under 10 minutes to go, the Crusaders went on an 11-0 spurt to take the lead for good and grab a 54-48 advantage with 6:04 to play.
“The key is doing things little-by-little and not trying to make it up all at once, and I thought today we did a great job of that,” Crusader head coach Tracey Dorow said.
Junior Tabitha Gerardot (Fort Wayne, Ind./Canterbury) scored nine straight points during the run. Her 3-pointer from the top of the key got the Crusaders within two, and she tied the game at 48 with a pair of free throws. Her layup with 7:06 to go gave Valparaiso the lead for good, and she added another basket on a put back of her own miss on the next possession.
Senior Gina Lange (Wyoming, Minn./Forest Lake) capped the run on a layup with 6:04 left.
Gerardot finished with 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting and grabbed 17 rebounds to tie her career high. She was also 7-of-10 at the free throw line. The double-double was her third of the season and the 16th of her career.
The Penguins closed to within a single point three times over the final four minutes, but the Crusaders had an answer each time.
Gerardot’s three-point play stretched the Valparaiso advantage to 58-54 with 3:42 left. Lange followed with a jumper to make it 62-59 at the 3:09 mark, and junior Charae Richardson (Lafayette, Ind./Jefferson [Vincennes]) scored a layup with 2:13 to go to give the Crusaders a 62-59 lead.
Richardson, senior Laura Richards (Connersville, Ind./Connersville) and Gerardot combined for five free throws in the last minute to push the final margin to eight.
Lange scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, and Richardson added 13.
Richards totaled six points, six assists and seven rebounds, while sophomore Jessica Carr (Arcadia, Ind./Hamilton Heights) had five points, five rebounds and a career-high four assists.
Youngstown State built 34-19 lead with 4:45 left in the opening half, but the Crusaders responded with 21-2 run over the next nine minutes to take a 40-36 lead. Gerardot had four baskets during the spurt, including the layup that gave the Crusaders their first lead of the game at 38-36 with 15:56 to go.
Carr hit a 3-pointer of Valparaiso’s first possession of the second half and followed it up with a jumper on the next possession to tie the game at 36.
“This group has done a phenomenal job of not hanging their heads when we do have a poorer spurt and the other team gets on a little bit of a run,” Dorow said.
The Crusaders had their best shooting performance of the season, making 23 of 44 attempts (52.3 percent). Valparaiso had a 46-22 rebounding advantage, including a 34-11 edge in defensive rebounds.
“With the exception of a few turnovers, we really executed our offense, and it wasn’t our traditional that we have been running,” Dorow said. “These guys made good reads and made plays and found open areas and didn’t take bad shots today.”
Brandi Brown led Youngstown State (10-4, 0-1 HL) with 16 points. Shar’Rae Davis added 13 points and Liz Hornberger had 12.
Valparaiso (6-8, 1-0), which improved to 3-3 in Horizon League openers, concludes its four-game home stand on Wednesday, Jan. 16 when it hosts Loyola at 7:05 p.m. The game will be broadcast on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso, and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live stats.