After cruising over the last month, the Thomas More women’s basketball team was tested in a Mid-South Conference matchup Thursday night at the Connor Convocation Center.
After narrow victories in their first two games of the season, the Saints (11-0, 6-0) had won their previous eight games by 12 points or more. Thursday was a battle until the end, prevailing over Pikeville, 62-57.
“That’s a national tournament game. And that’s how we’ve been here for three years in NAIA now and going on here for two years of being able to make a run for the championship. Runner-up and then winning. That’s how that environment is, that level of play, that execution,” Thomas More coach Jeff Hans said.
Any time Pikeville packed a punch, Thomas More countered against the pesky Bears (6-4, 4-3).
Zoie Barth hit a jumper to end a 9-0 Pikeville run in the third and extend the Saints lead to four, Alex Smith had a strong take to the hole to put the Saints back up four and then a Kelly Brenner 3-pointer at the third quarter buzzer gave them a five-point edge headed to the fourth.
Pikeville still hung around, tying the game at 47 with 7:39 to play on a Sammi Sites 3-pointer.
But another response, Rachel Martin and Alex Smith with back-to-back layups to ignite a 6-0 Saints run.
Life in the Mid-South is never easy, Pikeville getting within two with 1:12 to play on two Bailey Frazier free throws.
This one a 3-point play with under a minute to play and a five point lead.
“We executed when we needed to, not all the time like the lulls in the game you’re talking about. That’s how it is, that’s what we expect and that’s why this conference is one of the best in the country,” Hans said.
Pikeville had one last chance, but Sites’ triple came up short, Courtney Hurst securing the rebound and draining two free throws with less than two seconds remaining.
“I feel like recently our games maybe haven’t been as tough as this one was. So we kind of had to dig deep. We might not have had the best energy tonight. They went on runs and we had to go back and grind it out,” Hurst said.
Ranked No. 1 and with a stranglehold on the top ranking with their dominant play early on in the season, the Saints needed a game like this before they hit the road for a while and won’t return to their home floor until 2023. While the rankings and the talk surrounding the team is about how good they are, Hans constantly reminds them otherwise of the work that still needs to be done.
“Every day in practice,” Hans said.
Thursday ended a five-game homestand, now they’ll get some mileage with eight of their next 10 on the road, including four straight with Shawnee State starting on Saturday.