The University of Scranton women's basketball team had the ball in the closing seconds with a chance to take the lead, but could not get one final shot to fall in a 52-51 loss to Catholic University in the Landmark Conference championship on Saturday in the Long Center.
Catholic (19-8) won its third conference title and earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Lady Royals (24-3) will wait until the field is announced on Monday at 2:30 p.m. to find out if they'll receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Aiming for their second straight Landmark title, the Lady Royals found themselves in a tense battle all afternoon. Neither team led by more than three in the first half before Catholic took a 22-21 lead into the locker room. The lead did not grow any bigger in the second half until Scranton used a 7-0 run to take a 45-40 lead on a pair of free throws by senior forward Meredith Mesaris (Fairfax, Va./Fairfax) with 5:35 to play.
Catholic called a timeout and immediately responded with a 10-0 run to build its own five-point lead at 50-45 with 3:09 left. Sophomore guard Michelle DeSantis (Trumbull, Conn./Lauralton Hall) sparked the run with a 3-pointer, and championship MVP Melissa Errico (Harrington Park, N.J./Old Tappan) had five points in the run.
Scranton wasn't done as Mesaris nailed a jumper and a layup on back-to-back possessions to pull the Lady Royals within one, 50-49, with 1:27 left. But Errico responded with a drive and a layup to put the Cardinals back up by three with 1:13 to play.
The Lady Royals got a layup from sophomore forward Sarah Payonk (Schwenksville, Pa./Spring Ford) just inside of a minute, then junior guard Jaclyn Gantz (Havertown, Pa./Haverford) made a steal to regain possession with 39 seconds left.
Scranton worked the ball inside to Mesaris, but her shot with 20 seconds left was off the mark. Payonk secured the rebounds and the Lady Royals called timeout to set up for the last shot. But a shot with the clock winding down was no good and Catholic grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 1.4 seconds left. The first free throw was no good, but the Lady Royals could not get off a long shot before the buzzer.
Mesaris led all scorers with 18 points, senior guard Lindsay Fluehr (Bensalem, Pa./Nazareth Academy) had 13 points and five assists, and Payonk had her eighth double-double of the season, finishing with 11 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, five steals and two blocks for Scranton. The Lady Royals shot 21-for-59 (35.6 percent) from the field and committed a season-low eight turnovers.
Errico led the Cardinals with 15 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, two steals and two assists in 31 minutes off the bench. DeSantis finished with 13 points. Catholic shot 22-for-50 (44 percent) and overcame 19 turnovers by winning the rebounding battle, 43-29.