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National knockouts administered to Cougars

SXU sports summary

While there was room for St. Xavier University in both the men’s and women’s NAIA Division II basketball tournaments, neither Cougars squad will need to free up additional space in the school’s athletic trophy case.

SXU’s men did advance into the second round of play in Point Lookout, Mo., last week but No. 10-ranked Midland (Neb.) University halted the Cougars’ progress on Friday. Despite a combined 35 points from senior Brad Karp and junior Jack Krieger, the Cougars dropped a 64-61 decision to the Warriors.

The fate of SXU’s women was a little worse, seeing as how that group of Cougars was knocked out on Day 1 of their tourney. Escorting SXU off the national stage was the College of the Ozarks, which handed down a surprisingly lopsided 68-43 defeat on Thursday at the Tyson Events center in Sioux City, Iowa.

SXU’s men opened play last Wednesday versus Cincinnati Christian University and fared quite well, as they jumped out to a 19-4 advantage and eventually pocketed an 87-71 triumph at the College of the Ozarks’ Keeter Gymnasium.

“We came out playing really aggressive,” said Krieger, who tallied a game-high 22 points for the No. 6-ranked Cougars. “Everyone on our team played hard, even the guys off the bench. We had some key rebounds and forced some big turnovers, and those are the little things that helped us get such a big lead early.”

The Eagles, who were making their initial appearance in the national tournament, slipped behind 24-8 before reeling off eight unanswered markers. SXU (30-5) countered with a 20-9 burst that carried it into intermission and regained momentum for the locals. Freshman Kyle Tackett’s buzzer-beating basket capped the run.

Cincinnati Christian recovered from that latest assault, though, to get back within 10 points of the Cougars midway through the second half. Following a timeout, SXU scored twice in a row, but the Eagles refused to fold; instead, they netted 12 of the game’s next 13 points to narrow their deficit to just four points.

Nearly six minutes still remained, but Cincinnati Christian could not complete its comeback. The Cougars sealed the deal for themselves at the charity stripe, with Michael Simpson’s 15-of-15 display leading the way.

Simpson’s 15 made free throws were the ninth-most for an individual in tourney history, while SXU’s total of 34 rated as the sixth-highest team amount.

“I’m proud of our team for keeping it together and finishing the game strong,” Cougars coach Tom O’Malley said immediately after the contest. “I thought Cincinnati Christian was really aggressive down low and on the offensive glass, and [they] definitely showed why they are down here at the national championship.”

In addition to Krieger’s output, SXU also received double-figure scoring from Simpson (19 points) and Karp (15) in the win. Michael Hill had 19 points in a losing cause for the Eagles (19-14), who actually outshot the Cougars 51 percent to 42 from the field.

***

On Friday, it was SXU having to play catch-up after falling into an early hole against Midland. The Warriors staked themselves to a 14-point halftime edge and then held on as the Cougars made a few second-half surges.

A sizable portion of the opening session was a back-and-forth affair, with SXU scoring seven of the first 10 points, then falling behind by as many as six points before pulling even at 21-all on two Krieger charity tosses. But with less than five minutes remaining prior to the break, Midland went on a 16-2 tear to seize command. Five different players contributed to the Warriors’ blitz.

“It was a complete turnaround [from the game before],” O’Malley said.

The margin grew as large as 16 before the Cougars used a series of 3-balls to fight their way back into contention. Karp’s beyond-the-arc basket drew SXU within 55-48, then Krieger connected from downtown to make it just a two-point contest with 4:38 left.

A couple misses at the free-throw line kept the Cougars from moving in front, but Karp’s jumper reduced SXU’s deficit to 57-56 with just over two minutes to go. In the remaining time, however, Midland sank a clutch 3-pointer and registered a block on the Cougars with 11 seconds remaining. Some foul shots created the final score.

“I thought Midland would be a tough team to meet,” O’Malley said. “They had a good inside game and good outside game, [but] we did almost win the game without shooting anywhere near what we usually do.”

SXU nipped at the Warriors’ heels despite connecting on only 35 percent of its field-goal tries, compared to Midland’s 47 percent success rate. The latter also went 13-of-19 at the foul line, while the Cougars misfired a total of 11 times from the stripe.

Krieger tallied 18 points for SXU, while Karp concluded his stellar collegiate career with 17, which gave him a total of 2,889 and made him the fourth-highest scorer in Illinois college basketball history. Karp also grabbed seven rebounds. His 1,053 career boards rank second in Cougars annals.

“Every year, the kid got better,” O’Malley said of Karp. “We’ll have a hard time finding a replacement for him.”

Josh Mawhorr added 10 points and eight rebounds for SXU, which earned praise from Midland coach Todd Eisner.

“St. Xavier is unbelievable offensively, and they really made us battle,” he said. “Credit them with how poorly we played offensively in the second half, as they made a run and gave us all we could handle.”

Alex Starkel (14 points), Marcus Franklin (12), Galen Gullie (12) and Brandon Williams (nine points, seven rebounds) were the Warriors’ headliners.

“Anytime you win 30 games, you can’t cry about it,” O’Malley said. “The hardest thing to do is talk to the team after they’ve lost that last game, but we had a great year.”

That didn’t prevent the veteran leader from considering a few what-ifs.

“You get that far in a year, it’s disappointing when you don’t win it all,” O’Malley said. “I think we had the right mixture of people to do that, but it just didn’t work out. We do have quite a few kids coming back [in 2014-15], so I hope they look at this and decide they don’t want to go through [the losing] again.”

 — Ken Karrson

  • Editor’s note: Some quotes were provided by the NAIA offices.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

In their previous 32 games, the Cougars rarely experienced a time when at least one player didn’t step up and carry the load in the midst of a team-wide shooting slump.

SXU finally did last Thursday, and at the worst possible moment. A disastrous 24 percent success rate doomed the No. 2-seeded Cougars against seventh-seeded College of the Ozarks, which rolled over SXU in the opening round of the national tournament.

The Cougars (27-6) finished with just 17 baskets. Junior forward Morgan Stuut did post her 25th double-double of the campaign with 14 points and 13 rebounds, but her scoring total was below average for her.

“When you get to this level, you just can’t have a bad game,” SXU coach Bob Hallberg said. “We were just out of sync. It’s bad when the whole team goes cold — that’s what happened.

“I liked our draw going into the tournament, and I thought we could have went a long way, [but] the whole game boiled down to shooting. You can’t win when you shoot the way we shot. When we shot like that in the past, somebody was able to step up for us and have a good game, and that just didn’t happen for us [here].”

College of the Ozarks entered the tourney as one of NAIA Division II’s most battle-tested programs, with 20 national trips in the 23-year history of the event. Freshman guard Alice Heinzler led all scorers with 18 points. Joining her in double figures for the Bobcats was senior Emily Walker, who tallied 13.

College of the Ozarks opened the contest with a 10-4 run and never looked back, eventually getting its lead up to 20 points following Walker’s layup off a Heinzler assist with two seconds remaining in the first half. The Cougars couldn’t get their offense going in the opening 20 minutes, as they converted only 8-of-33 attempts from the floor, a mark that included a 1-of-6 showing from 3-point range.

The Bobcats kept their foot on the gas in the second half, never allowing SXU to draw closer than 14 points. As a team, College of the Ozarks shot 39 percent from the field and was 16-of-20 at the foul line.

“We have to now reflect that we finished the season at 27-6,” Hallberg said. “It’s some consolation that a lot of coaches would love to have that kind of record. We got into the tournament with a lot of potential to go a long way, but we just didn’t shoot well. You don’t have time to recover, [so] the season is unfortunately over.

“When it ends like that, it’s not like a two- or three-point loss. I have no answer why we all went cold on the same night together. You don’t have to go much farther than the shooting percentage to find out the reason why we lost.

“It doesn’t do you any good to vent [about] what we could have done [differently]. We have to move on to next season.”

— Anthony Nasella

WOMEN’S TRACK

Highlighted by 19th-place finishes from senior Ashley Shares in the 5,000-meter run and the 3,200-relay team, the Cougars concluded their indoor season at the NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships in Geneva, Ohio.

Shares posted her fastest time of the season in her race as she completed it in 18 minutes, 13.56 seconds. Meanwhile, the relay quartet of junior Leslie Rosario, senior Anna Galvez, senior Jordan Wallace and freshman Nicole Watkins established an SXU record in their event by clocking a 9:33.19, which eclipsed the previous standard by 18 seconds.

“I’m so proud of these women and what they were able to accomplish at the national meet,” Cougars coach Lisa Ebel said. “Breaking a record is always exciting, but doing it at nationals makes it extra special. I’m glad these young ladies were able to achieve that.

“This is great momentum for our team heading into the outdoor season.”

SXU begins the outdoor portion of its schedule on Saturday, March 29, at Goshen (Ind.) College’s Maple Leaf Invitational.

MEN’S TRACK

Some Cougars men also took part in the NAIA meet, and junior Janis Pastars provided SXU with the best individual effort as he placed ninth in the mile run after finishing the race in 4:13.11. That time was over four seconds faster than the one Pastars posted in the prelims that qualified him for the finals.

Seniors Brian Corcoran and Shane Kenney both represented the Cougars in the 1,000-run, where they wound up 17th and 18th with respective clockings of 2:32.62 and 2:34.66.

“I am very proud of all of our guys’ performances, but especially Pastars’,” SXU coach Ed McAllister said. “He missed All-American status by just one spot, ran a personal-record time and showed that he will be even better outdoors.”

The Cougars are slated to begin their outdoor season on Saturday, April 5, at the University of Chicago’s Ted Haydon Invitational. The meet will get underway at 11 a.m.

MEN’S GOLF

Junior Kyle Bahnick shot a two-round score of 148 to finish in a tie for ninth place as the Cougars opened the spring portion of their 2013-14 golf season at the Embry-Riddle Spring Invitational in Prescott, Ariz.

Bahnick’s 72 paced SXU on Day 1 at Antelope Hills South Golf Course. The Cougars recorded a team score of 601 at the event, which placed them third behind the host school (577) and Arizona Christian University (598).

Senior James Kerr (150; 73-77) was 11th individually, senior Brandon Ryan (151; 79-72) occupied the No. 14 position and senior Kirby Brown (152; 74-78) tied for the 15th spot to complete SXU’s scoring. Also taking part in the tournament for the Cougars were freshman Robert Lively (157; 81-76, 23rd place), sophomore Zach Trent (161; 82-79, tied for 26th), freshman Kyle Yaeger (167; 80-87, 33rd) and freshman Mark Kluk (174; 86-88, 35th).

SXU will compete in the Ashford University Invitational at Blue Top Ridge Golf Course in Riverside, Iowa, April 4 and 5.

MEN’S VOLLEYBALL

Behind big nights from senior outside hitter Justin Cousin and sophomore middle blocker Sam Kull, the Cougars wrapped up their home schedule on a high note by downing Siena Heights (Mich.) University 25-20, 25-27, 25-19, 25-11 in a Great Lakes Division match Friday at the Shannon Center.

Cousin put down 16 kills to lead the SXU charge, while Kull backed him with 11 kills and 10 total blocks, which included two solo efforts. As a team, the Cougars (5-12, 5-4) recorded 49 kills and made 19 hitting errors, which translated into a .263 attack percentage.

Freshman Moises Lopez also pitched in with a solid exhibition, as he totaled a team-best 42 assists and nine digs. Others making their presences felt on SXU’s behalf were senior middle blocker J.T. O’Connell (10 kills, .353 attack percentage) and freshman Dan O’Keefe, who equaled O’Connell’s digs amount.

The Cougars meet Cardinal Stritch in a Great Lakes Division encounter tonight in Milwaukee before closing out their regular season next Wednesday at Lakeland (Wis.) College in a makeup of a match originally slated for Feb. 4.

***

Cousin (12 kills) and Kull (seven kills, nine service aces, two assisted blocks) were at it again last Tuesday, and their combined handiwork sent a “Senior & Parent Night” crowd away from the Shannon Center happy. That’s because SXU used the duo’s production as the foundation for a 25-14, 25-18, 25-15 conference victory over Cincinnati Christian.

A big plus for the Cougars was their overall hitting efficiency. Their 37 kills and six errors added up to a glossy attack percentage of .508.

Lopez and fellow Oak Lawn alumnus Jacob Siska shared the setting duties, and each athlete distributed 15 assists to keep SXU’s offense humming. O’Connell chipped in eight kills and two assisted blocks.

SOFTBALL

If Lourdes University softball players see Nicole Nonnemacher anytime in the future, it’ll be too soon, regardless of how much actual time has passed by.

Those players got their fill of the Cougars sophomore hurler last week as she no-hit them twice. After striking out 15 batters and allowing just one runner to reach base in SXU’s 1-0 whitewash last Monday, Nonnemacher continued her dominance three days later. In the rematch, she fanned 13 as the Cougars (14-2) rolled to a 7-0 triumph.

Juniors Shannon Lauret and Amanda Hainlen offered Nonnemacher batting support in her first gem as each player stroked a pair of hits. Sophomore Denise Anderson supplied SXU’s run by crossing the plate on sophomore Kasey Kanaga’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Junior Megan James (three hits), Kanaga (two hits, two runs) and Hainlen (two RBI) were the ringleaders on Thursday. Nonnemacher aided her own cause with an RBI single, part of a three-run first inning generated by the Cougars.

Thursday wasn’t all glory for No. 5-ranked SXU, though, as it also dropped a 4-3 verdict to Marian University. Senior Megan Nonnemacher took the pitching loss as she offset eight strikeouts with seven walks and eight hits allowed.

Kanaga went 4-for-4 and scored once, Hainlen had an RBI and senior Katie Houlihan also tallied for the Cougars, who watched Marian break a 3-all tie in the bottom of the seventh on a throwing error.

***

Last Wednesday also featured SXU dealing with a doubleheader split. After being blanked 1-0 by Ave Maria (Fla.) University, the Cougars roared back to defeat Bloomfield (NJ) College 8-0 in six innings behind big days from freshman pitcher Callie Brown (three-hitter, five strikeouts), James (two hits) and junior Katie Sears (two hits).

Also delivering a big blow was Anderson, whose bases-clearing triple was the key hit in SXU’s six-run fourth frame.

Nicole Nonnemacher got tagged with her first defeat by Ave Maria, which plated its lone run on a wild pitch in the fourth. Nonnemacher whiffed six and gave up only four hits, but the Cougars managed just four well-scattered hits themselves as they left the sacks jammed in the fifth inning and stranded two more runners in the seventh.

***

In last Monday’s other outing, SXU sneaked past Spring Arbor (Mich.) University 3-2 as Megan Nonnemacher, Brown and Nicole Nonnemahcer combined to scatter nine hits and strike out six. The elder Nonnemacher logged the win, while her sibling earned her second save.

Nicole Nonnemacher also provided two hits to the Cougars’ attack, as did Houlihan, who notched one of SXU’s runs. Tallying the others were Sears and Lauret.

One day earlier, the Cougars slipped past Ave Maria 4-3 and blasted NCAA Division II Alderson-Broaddus (WV) College 9-0.

Sears and James both poked two-RBI singles to propel SXU to its opening-game win, which was finalized when Nicole Nonnemacher stopped Ave Maria on one hit and fanned three over the last two stanzas. Nonnemacher saved a victory for Brown, who surrendered five hits and a walk while whiffing five through the first five innings.

The rout of Alderson-Broaddus was spearheaded by Megan Nonnemacher (three-hitter, five strikeouts, no walks), Hainlen (hit, two RBI, one run) and Kanaga (two RBI, one run). For the four games that spanned Sunday and Monday, Sears went 5-for-13 with two RBI, two runs scored and two stolen bases.

***

SXU wrapped up its Florida trip by defeating Marian 10-0 and St. Thomas (Fla.) University 4-2 on Saturday.

Nicole Nonnemacher silenced Marian on two hits while fanning eight and walking no one. The shutout was her fifth of the young season. Nonnemacher also produced at the plate, where she went 2-for-3 and scored twice.

Carrying an even larger share of the offensive load were the trio of Lauret (3-for-4 with a double, two runs, one RBI), freshman Savannah Kinsella (three RBI) and Hainlen (two hits — including a double — two runs, one RBI). The Cougars went ahead 3-0 in the first inning and cruised from there.

Game 2 was much tighter, but SXU again struck right away with a three-spot. That first-inning uprising was triggered by Kinsella’s two-run single and Hainlen’s RBI double. After St. Thomas capitalized on a Cougars miscue in the top of the third, SXU did the same in the fifth to set the final score.

Hainlen slammed a pair of two-baggers in support of pitcher Megan Nonnemacher, who went the distance. She allowed only four hits and struck out five.

BASEBALL

An offense that had been struggling to find its groove suddenly did so last week, as the Cougars piled up 48 runs in four games during its annual spring-break trip.

SXU split a twinbill with Clarke (Iowa) University last Thursday, losing Game 1 7-4 before rebounding to post a convincing 12-2 triumph in the nightcap. Friday featured another split, with the Cougars getting the better of Aquinas College (12-7) shortly after suffering a 10-6 setback against St. Ambrose University.

Senior outfielder Chris Klein and freshman Bryan Polak swung SXU’s biggest sticks over those four contests. Klein totaled seven hits, four runs and two RBI, while Polak generated six hits, six RBI and four runs.

Polak’s two hits and two RBI weren’t enough to save pitcher Scott Vachon from a tough-luck loss versus Clarke. He was nicked for 11 hits, but did not issue any free passes while striking out five.

Sophomore Alec Barnhart was the Game 2 hitting hero as he went 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles, five RBI and two runs scored. Behind Barnhart and Bryan Villanova (three hits, one double, two RBI, two runs), the Cougars (4-10) constructed an 8-1 lead over Clarke and were never threatened. Dan Wetzel collected the pitching win.

***

Friday’s opener was a virtual toss-up until St. Ambrose erupted for six runs over the last two frames. That tagged Klein with a defeat and rendered somewhat meaningless solid batting efforts by Polak (three RBI), senior Tom Keating (two hits, one RBI) and junior Damon Softcheck (two hits, one RBI).

SXU played a role reversal in Game 2, as it amassed six runs in the top of the seventh to sew up its victory over Aquinas. Klein (four hits, two runs), freshman Jim Augle (three hits, two runs) and Keating (two hits, three RBI) were the Cougars’ offensive mainstays in back of freshman pitchers Jeremy Dryier and Adrian Luna, who yielded eight hits between them. Luna got the win.

***

Klein was also a batting force earlier in the week, as he teamed with Softcheck to smack nine of SXU’s 20 hits on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Klein’s 4-for-5 display triggered the Cougars’ 11-0 romp past No. 25-ranked Ave Maria on Tuesday. He drove in four of SXU’s runs and scored two others in support of freshman pitcher Jesse Lopez, who tossed a five-hitter with six strikeouts.

Also lending a hand were Augle (two-run triple in the fourth), Softcheck (two-run double in the sixth) and senior Brad Myjak (RBI single in the third).

The Cougars came up short against Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference mate Purdue-North Central by a 4-1 count on Wednesday. The Panthers went ahead to stay by snapping a 1-all tie in the bottom of the fifth.

SXU finished with six hits, four of which were evenly divvied up between Softcheck and Augle. Casey Papp scored the Cougars’ lone marker.

Junior Terrance Southern was the losing pitcher, due in part to four SXU errors committed behind him.