LINCOLN — If ever there was a time for St. Raphael Academy to find the wherewithal to overcome adversity and regain momentum, Wednesday night's Division II crossover clash with Lincoln High was it.
The Lions proved to be more-than-gritty foes, forcing the Saints into 18 turnovers and more fouls than head coach Fred Saunders had desired.
In the end, however, senior co-captain Lauren Gaj collected 15 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks while junior swing Becca Gonzalez added another 15 points, 10 boards and three assists as St. Raphael posted a tough 49-37 triumph at the Lions' Den.
The Saints had suffered a 65-63, buzzer-beating loss to Johnston at their own Alumni Hall on Monday night, doing so when the Panthers scored five straight points in the waning seconds and issued Saunders and Co. its first league loss.
“This is big,” Saunders stated after his club improved to 12-4 and 10-1 in II-Central. “It certainly gave us a chance to regroup and get things going positive again. Over the past couple of weeks, our defense has not been as efficient as it was, and that's one of the things we've been working on is getting it back up to par.
“I will say this: Lincoln is a really gutsy team,” he added. “We know them from when we were both in Division I, and they always come to play. We expected a tough game, so I'm happy with the effort our girls displayed.”
For Lincoln, which fell to 7-9 overall and 5-6 in II-North, feisty junior Kellyn Dyer – who was all over the floor the majority of the evening – finished with 11 points and five steals, while senior Emily Bouthillette just missed a “double-double” with 11 rebounds and nine points and junior McKenzie Cavanaugh contributed 10 boards and four points.
Classmate Casie Beauchemin, the squad's point guard, also helped the cause with six points.
The Lions actually had jumped out to a 10-4 advantage after Beauchemin landed her lone trey and fellow junior Shirley Carrington netted a free throw with 9:40 remaining in the initial stanza.
They did so after dominating the defensive boards, with the aforementioned Bouthillette and Cavanaugh outjumping Gaj and fellow senior captain Christa Thomas (who didn't score but mustered five rebounds, five blocks and two steals).
SRA nevertheless needed just 7:32 to manage a 13-1 flurry. After knotting it for the second time at 10-10 on Felicia Baccari's nine-footer, Kaylee Oliver dropped a three-pointer and Becca Gonzalez (the daughter of former Shea High boys' hoop mentor Bunky Gonzalez) canned back-to-back jumpers off thefts, and the latter left the Saints ahead, 17-11, with 2:08 remaining.
Emmalee Mello drained a five-foot jumper with 9.7 ticks left, but Becca Gonzalez' trey at the buzzer gave the visitors a 22-14 cushion at the intermission.
All told, the Lions made 16 of their 24 turnovers in that half, while forcing 10 defensively.
Lincoln immediately fought back, though, when Bouthillette hit a putback off her own shot and Carrington nailed a short jumper to make it a four-point game only 2:03 into the second half.
Dyer's “three-bomb” at 12:03 sliced the deficit to 24-21, but SRA rallied, going on a 15-5 surge after Gaj planted a floating one-hander to make it 39-26 at the 7:03 mark.
Yet again, Lincoln edged its way back into it; Dyer landed a pair of foul shots, then netted an outstanding bob-and-weave layup with 5:29 remaining to make it 39-32.
Baccari, though, closed out a conventional three-point play, and the Lions couldn't tighten the gap to less than eight over the remaining minutes. Part of that stemmed from the hosts landing only three of 10 free throws in the first half; they finished only nine-for-21 from the charity stripe (43 percent).
“We just didn't hit the big shot when we needed it,” noted Lincoln head coach Andy Hallam. “We were getting some good defensive stops, and that team scores a lot of points, and our goal was to hold them under 50, slow them down.
“We didn't give up, and that's why I love coaching this team,” he added. “They're a tough bunch. It's just that, sometimes, it seems there's a lid on the bucket. We get spurts of awesome play, and then we go on droughts that we can't overcome. That's what happened here.”