Joe Gorby, Sports Information Director
JOLIET – A gritty defensive effort along with a pair of late free throws from Jordan Pyle (JR/Traralgon, Australia) enabled the NAIA No. 16-ranked University of St. Francis women’s basketball team to eke out a 48-47 victory over University of Saint Francis (Ind.) in its season opener Friday night at the Pat Sullivan Center. The contest was also the first game in the USF Catholic Classic.
Pyle, who had been sidelined over the past two weeks, returned to the fold on Friday to post a team-high 15 points. Twenty-six of the team’s remaining 33 points came from starters Josie Graffeo (SO/Manteno, Ill.) (14 points) and Leah Sims(SR/Chicago, Ill.) (12 points).
Sims also headlined USF’s defensive effort, which forced 23 Saint Francis (Ind.) turnovers on the night. The senior guard totaled four steals followed by another three from Kalyn Sias-Chaney (JR/Milwaukee, Wis.).
The Saints used an 11-4 scoring surge over the final four minutes of the first quarter to build a 19-13 advantage at the stop. Saint Francis (Ind.) (1-1) kept pecking away at that deficit but could never overcome head coach Steve Brooks’ club until the 3:17 mark of the fourth quarter. The lead changed hands three times after that, the last of which came on Pyle’s two free throws with 62 seconds to play in the contest.
Both teams had two chances to score in the closing minute, but came up empty, including a short jumper from the right side by Saint Francis (Ind.) leading scorer Cassidy Crawford as time expired. Crawford just missed a double-double, finishing with nine points and ten rebounds. Whitney Will also contributed nine points, while Meleah Leatherman chipped in with eight points for the Cougars.
USF managed only five points in the closing quarter with the only other points coming on a clutch three-pointer by Graffeo with 2:46 to play and the 30-second shot clock just about set to expire. It came just after Saint Francis (Ind.) had taken its first lead (45-43) since early in the first quarter and was the only field goal in 12 attempts during the final stanza for the Saints. Graffeo finished the night with four treys in eight attempts, while Sims connected the same number of times in nine attempts.
The Saints close out the 2020 USF Catholic Classic on Saturday (Nov. 7) afternoon at 2 p.m. (CT) when they face NAIA No. 3-ranked Marian University (Ind.) at the Sullivan Center.