(Notre Dame, Ind.) After missing the past two weeks of games due to the birth of her son, head coach Aimee Niespodziany returned to the sidelines to coach the Saints as they hosted the No. 15 ranked Cardinal Stritch Wolves.
A rather lopsided history between the two schools had resulted in the Wolves taking every contest against the Saints; just not this night. This time the Saints took control from the opening tip all the way to the final horn on their way to an upset win over the No. 15 Wolves and a historic moment for coach Niespodziany and the women's basketball program.
With both teams struggling to score throughout the first three and a half minutes, the Saints were first to get it going offensively as they rallied off a 10-to-1 run over the next two minutes. At the 8:34 mark of the first half, the Saints had extended the lead to ten points and had shown no sign of giving up. They were able to build their lead to as many as 15 and ended the half with a 29-16 lead.
The Saints held the Wolves to just 6-of-19 (31.6%) from the floor and turned 12 turnovers into 10 points. After one, Megan Eve (Scottsburg, Ind.) led all scorers with 8 points on 3-of-6 shooting which included hitting 2-of-4 from three-point range.
Holy Cross opened the second half much like they started the game as they were able to keep their lead in double figures for the first six minutes.
Stritch, however, would go on to show everyone in McKenna Arena why they've been such an impressive program over the years as they clawed all the way back to cut the Saints lead to just 49-48 with 4:41 left to play.
With less than four minutes left to play, positive possessions were crucial for the Saints if they wanted to pull off the upset. After two made free-throws by Stritch cutting the Saints lead to two, Lauren Malinowski (Dearborn Heights, Mich.) knocked down a jumper that gave the Saints a two possession lead with 3:20 left in the game.
Clinging to a five point lead after a layup from forward Maggie Gondeck (Michigan City, Ind.), Stritch once again answered back with a three-pointer from Liz Neitzel, once again making it just a two point Saints lead with less than two minutes to play.
The Wolves had their chance to tie or take the lead with less than a minute to play before a costly turnover forced them to foul one the Saints best free-throw shooters, Malinowski, who in turn knocked down both shots to give Holy Cross a much need two possession lead at 60-56 with 23 seconds left.
The biggest play for the Saints, however, took place when Maggie Gondeck grabbed the rebound on a Stritch missed opportunity and knocked down both free-throws to make it 63-58 with 7 seconds left. Even though Stritch would knock down one final three-pointer to cut it to two, there only remained 0.3 seconds left. The following inbound pass sealed it for the Saints as they completed the upset over No. 15 Cardinal Stritch with a 63-61 victory.
For Holy Cross, this was not only the first time they've beaten the dominant Cardinal Stritch, but it was the first time in the history of the program that they've defeated a nationally ranked opponent.
"Tonight was so special for our team," said coach Niespodziany. "The girls have been playing great basketball over the past four games and it's amazing to see all of their hard work pay off with a win of this magnitude. I'm truly proud to be associated with my entire team. We now need to keep working hard so we can have more of these moments down the stretch."
Lauren Malinowski scored 12 of her team high 16 points in the second half including going 6-for-8 from the charity stripe in key moments.
Megan Eve finished with 14 points while knocking down 5-for-9 from the floor including going 4-for-6 from beyond the arc.
The Saints forced Stritch into 20 turnovers over the course of the game which they turned into 25 points.
Holy Cross (9-15, 5-11 CCAC) will look to continue their current two game winning streak on the road as they first head to Calumet College of St. Joseph on January 30th. The next home contest for the Saints will be on February 6th against Purdue University Calumet.