Mountain Hawks prey on Eagles

After opening their Patriot League season in such promising fashion, the Lady Eagles suffered a critical blow on Saturday losing 69-55 to Lehigh at Bender Arena.

"Our offensive execution was poor and we didn't take care of the ball," AU head coach Shann Hart said. "We didn't hit layups."

The Eagles fell behind early and never recovered. The Mountain Hawks jumped out to a 20-8 lead eight minutes into the game behind the hot shooting of Lehigh freshman Sara Ellis and junior Jessica DePalo. The Eagles fought back to close the gap to eight points with three minutes remaining, but Lehigh ended the half on an 8-0 run and entered the locker room with a 38-22 lead.

Hart's crew came out in the second half intent on getting back in the game, and a 10-1 run highlighted by junior Angel Jordan's three-pointer cut the lead to 52-44 with just over eight minutes left. Junior Kim Salem scored five of her team-high 17 points during the spurt.

"When Angel hit the three, there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to close the game out and be in it until the end," said a disappointed Hart.

The Eagles continued to fight back and cut the lead to six several times, but never got closer. Every time AU got close, sophomore Dawn Gorynski, DePalo and Ellis hit jumpers to stop the run, and the Mountain Hawks hit eight free throws down the stretch to shatter any thoughts of a comeback.

For AU, Junior Chanel Hunt posted a double-double, scoring 10 points and pulling down 10 boards, six of them offensive. Senior Chanel Spriggs scored 16 and regained the scoring touch that had been missing in recent games.

Salem was a consistent presence in the paint for the Eagles, hitting six of her nine field goals. She used the same move on five of her shots, catching the ball on the low block and making a left-handed layup.

"Kim was certainly a presence for us down low tonight," Hart said. "We just kept pounding the ball inside and they couldn't stop her."

The Eagles' point guards senior Kaitlyn Schuyler and junior Joanna Barnes shot a combined 1-13 and scored four points, after averaging 18 points per game combined.

While the Eagles struggled offensively, Lehigh painted an offensive masterpiece, shooting 56 percent for the game and 9-for-18 from downtown. Ellis and DePalo grabbed nine rebounds and both scored 19 points. Ellis and Gorynski hit four threes apiece, scoring 13 points.

"Ellis is a very impressive freshman," Hart said. "We warned our girls about her and what she's been doing this year. She really stepped up for them tonight."

The Eagles shot only 35 percent from the floor and made only three three-pointers. Schuyler missed all five of her attempts.

Hart started making offensive and defensive substitutions midway through the second half. Little-used senior Angel McNatt, sophomore Alicia Zorzetto, freshman Kimeshia Junkins and senior Courtney Spellacy saw extended courttime.

"We had to play that way, just trying to prolong the game, because we were missing so many shots," Hart said.

The Eagles started the game cold. After Schuyler made the first shot of the game, Lehigh scored nine straight before junior Jenyce Woodruff's jump hook ended the run. Lehigh extended the lead to 17-8 on Ellis' first three-pointer of the game and hit six more three-pointers in the half, shooting 70 percent from beyond the arc early on.

After starting their PL season 2-0, the Eagles dropped into a tie for third place with Army, Colgate and Holy Cross, which is one game behind the Mountain Hawks.

AU gets a shot to make a statement this weekend when the Eagles look to break that tie with victories at Colgate and Holy Cross. However, a winless weekend (or a split) will leave the Eagles with a huge early-season mountain to climb.

"We'll bounce back from this and turn our attention to Colgate and Holy Cross," Hart said.

If the Eagles can sweep on the road, they will return to the friendly surroundings of Bender in contention for first place when they face cellar-bound Lafayette next Friday.

"We've had opportunities all year and we just need to start capitalizing once in a while," Hart said. If they don't start capitalizing soon, this weekend could be the beginning of the end for the Eagles.

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