Shenandoah women hold on to beat Blazers

WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s first-year women’s basketball coach Melissa Smeltzer-Kraft will likely have the Hornets shoot a few extra free throws in practice after Wednesday’s home opener against Hood College.

The Hornets, who are shooting less than 50 percent from the free-throw line in three games this season, continued that trend with a 40-percent (14 of 35) effort against the Blazers. Luckily for the Hornets, it didn’t come back to hurt them.

Hood had a chance to tie the game in the waning seconds after SU freshman Breya Wallace missed two free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining, but Hornets freshman Kanesha Foster intercepted a Blazers pass on the ensuing possession to seal Shenandoah’s 75-73 non-conference win.

“That’s something we’re definitely going to harp on moving forward,” Smeltzer-Kraft said of SU’s free-throw shooting shortly after her team improved to 3-0 on the season. “I think poise and control was shown in every element by us except at the free-throw line tonight.”

Though Shenandoah struggled at the free-throw line, the Hornets shot well from the field, hitting 28 of 52 shots for a 53.8-percent mark.

The Hornets had four players with double-digit points, led by senior forward Holly Chittenden’s 21. Sophomore Erin French set new career highs in points (13) and rebounds (10) en route to her first collegiate double-double, while Wallace and fellow freshman Kirstyn Arcata finished with 13 and 12 points, respectively.

“I think we’re really noticing the inside-outside works. If it’s passing in for a post move or the post kicking it back out, we have very solid shooters this year around the arc so it’s not just one person they have to shut down,” said Chittenden, who also had nine rebounds. “We can kick it to two or three people and the inside-outside is going to be open. It’s hard to defend both threats.”

Despite the efficient offensive performance, the Hornets did commit 21 turnovers (compared to 23 for the Blazers) and watched Hood (1-2) erase double-digit deficits in both halves.

Shenandoah used a 16-3 run in the first half — powered by seven points during that span by Arcata — to build a 27-15 lead with 7:23 left before halftime.

The Blazers rallied to cut that deficit to 38-35 with 23 seconds left in the half as Rachel Wiley (co-team-high 14 points, 8 rebounds) scored seven points and Allie Appleby (14 points) hit two 3-pointers during the seven-minute stretch.

A bucket in the paint by French off a Chittenden assist gave Shenandoah a 40-35 lead going into halftime.

“I thought it was good that we were only down five at the half because I thought the other team played great in the first half,” Blazers head coach Jack Mehl said. “I mean, they shot 61 percent from the floor [in the first half]. I felt like every time they needed to make a shot, they made a shot. We had some chances and obviously fell a little bit short. But I’m not displeased with our effort because I thought the kids played really hard.”

The Hornets came right out of the break and quickly built a 50-40 lead following a 3-pointer by Wallace with 16:44 left to play, and that lead increased to 61-46 with 12:23 remaining on a layup by French.

SU then went the next four minutes without a point as Hood — which started using full-court man-to-man pressure about six minutes into the second half — rallied back to cut the Hornets’ lead to 61-56.

“It kind of frazzled us,” French said of Hood’s pressure.

Shenandoah pushed the lead back to 10 points with less than four minutes remaining, but the Blazers again rallied and pulled within 73-71 on baseline runner by Appleby with 53 seconds left.

The Hornets missed four of six free-throw attempts and turned the ball over four times in the final 3 ½ minutes.

Chittenden and Hood’s Briana Lee traded a pair of made free throws with less than 20 seconds left before the Hornets were finally able to seal the victory on Foster’s steal.

“At the end of the day, we need games like this to be able to win in the ODAC,” Smeltzer-Kraft said. “I think the experience gained is going to be great.”

<em>Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or <a href=“mailto:bfauber@nvdaily.com”>bfauber@nvdaily.com</a></em>