CALIFORNIA – The California University women’s basketball team entered Friday night’s PSAC matchup with Millersville riding a three-game winning streak. To make it four in a row, the Vulcans would have to beat the first-place team in the East Division.
In a closely contested game – neither team led by more than five points the entire second half – California used a clutch three-pointer by Ryah Gadson and a pair of late free-throws from Emma Mahady to knock off the Marauders 67-64.
In the nightcap, the California men had a hard-fought battle of their own, but weren’t as fortunate, falling 62-60 to Millersville.
“I always say we have to be focused,” said California women’s coach Jess Strom. “Every possession matters in these types of games. Tonight, we played focused for 40 minutes and it paid off.”
Millersville (5-3, 8-4) took a 64-61 lead on a three-pointer from Mashira Newman with 1:42 remaining, but Gadson answered, knocking down her third shot from behind the arc to tie the score at 64 with 1:18 left.
“We wanted to get the ball inside,” said Gadson. “The ball ended up just swinging my way, and I heard Coach on the bench telling me to knock it down, and I did.”
However, the biggest play of the game was made on the Vulcans’ defensive end of the floor.
Millersville had success all night going inside, but when they tried to throw it down low, Vulcans guard Stephanie Michael came from behind and stole the ball from Newman. On the ensuing California possession, the Vulcans (6-2, 10-2) ran a backdoor play and Mahady was fouled. The sophomore guard calmly made both free throws to give the Vulcans a 66-64 lead.
The Marauders had a chance to tie the game or take the lead, but the California defense came up big again when Elena Antonenko stole the ball from Carly Gallagher.
“We knew we had to buckle down and make some plays on defense,” said Gadson. “Defense is our strong point and even though they were having success inside, we knew we had to make something happen to win the game.”
The Vulcans got off to a good start, leading by as many as 12 midway through the first half, but the Marauders cut the California lead to only two by halftime, using a 19-9 run over the final 10 minutes.
The Millersville duo of Miesha Cousins and Aurielle Mosley had success all nightin the low post, combining for 32 points on 14-of-22 shooting.
“We came out pretty good, but we knew Millersville would get back into it,” said Strom. “We expected a back-and-forth game, and we knew they would have success in the paint against us because we are smaller than every team we face. But we wanted to make them work and make things tough on them. I thought we did a good job of that.”
The Marauders started the second half well, using a 10-3 run to take a five-point lead at 47-42 with 14 minutes left. Neither team led by more than two points for a nine-minute span, until Gadson put the Vulcans up 59-54 with five minutes left.
“I thought we grew up as a team,” added Strom. “Last year, and early this season, we would have been tentative to take the big shot or make the big play. Now, we want to take those shots and make those plays. It’s a sign of our character.”
Mahady led California with 14 points, while Irina Kukolj (13), Michael (10) and Gadson (10) each scored in double figures.
Cousins and Mosley both led Millersville with 16 while Gallagher chipped in 12.
The Cal men trailed 32-25 at the half but fought back and tied the score at 59 with 1:30 left.
Millersville’s Larry Grant made a pair of free throws to put the Marauders up 61-59. Cal had chances to pull out a win, but Chris Williams made only one of two free throws with a minute left, and Anthony Lytle missed a layup with 23.4 seconds remaining.
Quentin Harding led California (4-4, 5-7) with 17 points while Keith Lowe chipped in 15.
Millersville (6-2, 10-4) was led in scoring by Charleroi graduate Elijah Obade, who had 13 points to go along with 11 rebounds.
Both California teams will be back in action today when they host Shippensburg.