Women's Basketball Tops MSJ, Earns HCAC Tourney Spot

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CINCINNATI, Ohio – Led by 16 points from senior Kelsey Ploof, the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology women's basketball team defeated Mount St. Joseph 58-51 in its regular-season finale Saturday to clinch the final spot in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament.

The Fightin' Engineers (10-15, 8-10 HCAC) earned the sixth seed in the upcoming league tournament and will face Franklin College in the quarterfinals Friday at tournament host Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.

The two teams split during the regular season, with Rose-Hulman picking up a 65-61 victory over the Grizzlies Feb. 19 in Terre Haute. Franklin (13-12, 11-7 HCAC), which lost to Defiance 62-60 Saturday, won the first meeting over the Engineers, 51-31.

In Saturday's win, Ploof (Noblesville, Ind./Noblesville) shot 4-of-9 from the field and 8-for-10 from the free-throw line to go along with six rebounds in her final regular season game for the Engineers. Freshman Abbie Marshall (St. Louis, Mo./Nerinx Hall) added 11 points for RHIT, which included a 9-for-10 showing at the free-throw line.

The Engineers trailed at the break, 23-22, before taking control in the second half. RHIT opened the second period on a 5-0 run, sparked by two free throws from junior Gracie Gibbs (Parker, Colo./Ponderosa) and a 3-pointer by Carrie Morris (Altadena, Calif./Mayfield) to give the visitors a 27-24 lead at the 17:01 mark.

With 13:44 to play, Rose-Hulman extended its lead to eight, 33-25, fueled by two more free throws from Ploof and another jumper from Morris. Mount St. Joseph (3-22, 3-15 HCAC) made a run of its own, trimming the lead to three, 40-37, with a Tara Dennis layup at the 6:42 mark. Both teams traded baskets over the next two minutes before the Engineers pulled away with a 11-3 run to take its largest lead of the game (53-42) with 2:46 left.

Rose-Hulman made 7-of-9 free throws over the span, as Kristen Belyea (Mahomet, Ill./Mahomet Seymour) drained two shots from the charity stripe to go along with a layup, Marshall made two free throws and Ploof added a bucket and three free throws.

The Engineers finished the game 29 of 35 (82.9 percent) from the free-throw line, compared to 9 of 19 (47.4 percent) for the Lions. Rose-Hulman also won the rebounding battle, 42-25, led by 10 boards from freshman Jamie Loving (Normal, Ill./Normal West), who added eight points, all in the first half.

Morris chipped in nine points and Gibbs had eight points for RHIT.

Heidi McManus was the lone Mount St. Joseph player in double figures with 22 points.

Ploof and fellow senior Jaci Dalton (Hamilton, Mich./Black River) have reached the HCAC Tournament every year in their career for the Engineers, who reach the postseason tournament for sixth time under eighth-year coach Jon Prevo.