Millikin Defeats Carthage, 71-61, in Feb. 20 Season-Finale

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The Carthage College women's basketball team (9-16, 5-9 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) ended its 2016 season on Saturday, Feb. 20 with a 71-61 loss to Millikin University (9-16, 2-12 CCIW) at the Griswold Physical Education Center in Decatur, Ill. 

The Lady Reds finished the year in a tie for sixth place and missed out qualifying for the conference tournament for only the second time.  Since the tournament began in 2003, the Lady Reds have missed only the 2005 and the 2016 events.  For head coach Tim Bernero (227-124, 13 years), this year marks only his second losing season, with his 2006 squad going 12-14.

Wheaton College (Ill., 20-5, 11-3 CCIW) and Illinois Wesleyan University (16-9, 11-3) shared this year's championship, the eighth league title for the Thunder and the seventh for the Titans.  Wheaton (Ill.) will play host to conference tournament for the fourth time, with North Central College (14-11, 8-6) finishing third.  Elmhurst College (13-12, 7-7) tied for fourth place with North Park University (16-9, 7-7), but the Bluejays secured the fourth seed in the tournament on the basis of two wins over the Vikings.

Millikin jumped out to an 11-2 lead at 6:27 first period, and a three-point play by Alyssa Saklak at 3:45 made it  an a 11-point game, 16-5.  The Lady Reds trimmed the lead to five points, 18-13, at 2:30, but the Big Blue led by 10 after the first period, 23-13.  Millikin upped its lead to 13 points, 26-13, at 9:08 second period on a three-point play by Emily Schultz.  A jumper by Emily Schultz at 7:49 made it a 14-point game, 29-15.  The Big Blue upped their margin to 17 points, 37-20, at 2:35 on a pair of free throws by Devin Curry and led by 15 at halftime, 39-24.

Back-to-back layups by Saklak at 7:29 and 7:05 third period gave Millikin a 21-point lead, 45-24.  Carthage cut the margin to 14 points, 54-37, with 59 seconds to go in the third period, but Millikin led by 16 going into the final period, 55-39.  The Lady Reds mounted a furious fourth-quarter comeback with a 15-3 run to start the period.  A three-pointer by Micala Giammarino at 8:10 and a layup by Rachel Szydlowski at 7:54 brought the Lady Reds to within nine points, 55-46.  Two free throws by Bailey Gilbert a 4:51 made it six points, 58-52, and  a pair of Mandy Hozzian free throws at 4:23  made it a four-point game, 58-54.  A three-pointer by Millikin's Devin Curry at 1:52 finally iced the game at 63-56, and Millikin went on to win by 10 points, 71-61.

Millikin shot 41 percent (22-of-54), including six-of-17 from three-point range, while Carthage shot 41 percent (20-of-49), including eight-of-23 threes.  The Big Blue got to free-throw line 24 times and made 21, while the Lady Reds connected on 13-of-17.  Millikin had a decisive, 41-24 rebounding advantage.

Alyssa Saklak led the Big Blue with 19 points on  eight-of-19 field goals, along with three-of-three free throws and seven rebounds.  Devin Curry came off the bench to score 17 points on two-of-five shooting but 11-of-12 from the free-throw line.  The Lady Reds' Bailey Gilbert (Fr., Sycamore, Ill.) scored a career-high and game-high 24 points on five-of-14 field goals, including five-of-12 from three-point range, along with nine-of-11 free throws.  Morgan Vukovich (So., Mukwonago, Wis.) scored 13 points on five-of-10 shooting, along with four rebounds.  Erin Thomas (Sr., Spring Grove, Ill./Richmond-Burton, concussion) and Morgan Harris (So., Arlington Heights, Ill./Hersey, torn anterior cruciate ligament) both missed the season-finale.

"Given the circumstances," said Carthage coach Tim Bernero, "we did a good job.  I'm trying to teach a young team how to play the game, and there were times in the first half when we called for fouls because we were out of position and bumped a lot of their people.  We're still learning that part of the game, and now I know what to emphasize when we start back up in the fall.  We'll be back at full strength then with a really good recruiting class, and that competition within the team will make us better.  And we got out of this game without anyone else getting hurt.  These are good kids, they work hard, and they do what we tell them.  We'll get better."