The season is likely over for the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team.
Down 59-56 in the closing seconds of a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal game against third-seed Black Hills State University, two desperation 3-pointers from FLC were slightly off target to send the Skyhawks home from Spearfish, South Dakota, with another loss.
The Skyhawks lost their regular-season finale to Westminster College on Saturday at home, which dropped them to the sixth-seed in the RMAC tournament.
The two losses will likely knock the Skyhawks (20-9) out of the NCAA Division II South Central rankings. The new rankings will be released Wednesday, and if FLC is outside the top eight teams in the rankings its season will be done and the team will be left wondering what might have been.
FLC entered the season as one of the favorites to win the RMAC and were ranked as high as No. 11 in the national coaches poll in December. But a never-ending string of injuries to key players kept the Skyhawks from reaching their highest potential.
“It’s frustrating. We’ll continue to have high goals and we’ll move forward, but never having your full squad for the season was tough,” FLC head coach Jason Flores said. “This was one of those years when almost everyone else in the conference was pretty much healthy and we were almost always without somebody. But that happens in basketball and other people have to step up.
“This is the hard part of being on the road in the postseason. When it’s a true road game, its tough. When we look back, there were a few games we let slip away and if we didn’t we’d be playing at home. That’s what we need to learn. We can’t take any game for granted, especially in this league. We let a couple games get away.”
Similar to how FLC was never able to find its rhythm in the season because of injury, the team didn’t get a lot going in the loss to the Yellow Jackets (23-6) and their physical style of play.
In the first half, both offenses struggled to string baskets together, as action was stopped regularly because of fouls – there were 25 total fouls in the half, 14 on FLC and 11 on BHSU.
Flores said it was tough for the Skyhawks to get into on offensive flow with all the whistles, but he wasn’t surprised considering physical play is a staple of the Yellow Jackets.
“That’s what Black Hills’ style is. They’re extremely physical,” he said. “We knew that’s what we were going to run into up here – a hard-fought, tooth-and-nail physical battle.”
The physical play led to more than high foul and free throw counts. FLC committed 19 turnovers in the game, which the Yellow Jackets turned into 20 points.
“It was a really physical game, so there were a lot of drives that there was a lot of contact on and they put a lot of pressure on to deny passes,” Flores said. “They will physically try to keep you from being fluid on offense. That’s their style, and we got a little too careless with the ball and weren’t strong enough with the ball.”
FLC shot 6-of-14 from the field in the first quarter to build a 16-11 lead, FLC was held to one made field goal in the second quarter and took a 27-26 lead into halftime.
After taking the lead in the third quarter, Black Hills pushed its advantage to 54-44 with a few minutes left in the fourth. But FLC kept pushing back.
Kayla Herrera hit a 3 with about two minutes remaining that cut the Skyhawks’ deficit to 54-49. Black Hills got the lead back to eight points at 58-50 before FLC senior Shelby Patterson knocked down a 3 with 25 seconds remaining.
Following Patterson’s 3, FLC’s Vivian Gray stole the Yellow Jackets’ ensuing inbound pass and threw up a 3 that found the bucket to make it 58-56.
FLC had to foul to regain possession. Black Hills’ Rachel Erickson drew the foul and went to the line for two but only made one free throw, which kept FLC in the game.
The Skyhawks got the ball to Gray on the left wing. Gray, who was named the RMAC Freshman of the Year on Tuesday, fired a contested shot from a few feet behind the 3-point line that hit the front of the rim and bounced to senior Briana Clah.
Clah secured the long rebound, took a dribble to set her feet and launched from deep. The ball touched nearly every inch of the rim and got halfway down before it spun out as the final buzzer sounded.
On the night, FLC shot 32.1 percent (17-for-53) and hit 17-of-19 free throws.
Jordan Carter, a redshirt freshman who has seen about 12 minutes per game this season, led the Skyhawks with 14 points. She was 5-of-5 from the field and 4-for-4 at the foul line in 24 minutes. She also grabbed four rebounds, blocked two shots and had a steal.
“She’s a player who has a lot of potential to develop into a really good player,” Flores said of Carter. “She definitely has the ability, and as a redshirt freshman she has a lot of time ahead of her. We’re looking for her to make a big jump from her freshman to sophomore year.”
Gray finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a steal. Herrera ended with 11 points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Black Hills shot 32.2 percent (19-for-59) from the field and 15-for-18 at the charity stripe. The Yellow Jackets had 12 steals as a team.
Erickson led the Yellow Jackets with 19 points. She also had four rebounds and two steals. Lyndzi Rich added 14 points.