By Nicolas Bueno | Box Score | Game Photos
Joe DiCurzio can get used to this title-winning thing.
After defeating the Red River College Rebels last year to collect his first MCAC title, his squad overcame a 10-point deficit Saturday to defeat the #2 seeded Providence Pilots 54-51. Not only was this the Blazers’ second consecutive title, but they also did it at their home gym.
“The way we did it was more incredible because we didn’t play very well for 36 minutes of that game,” DiCurzio said of his team’s performance.
The game started out slow, with neither team shooting over 34% from the field. The Pilots’ defense was a thorn in the Blazers’ side, getting five early steals. One thing the Blazers had going for them was rebounding, collecting eight offensive rebounds after the opening frame.
The second quarter did not prove to be any more fruitful for either team, with CMU shooting 21% and Providence shooting 26% at the half. The Pilots took a 24-21 lead at the break.
“They’re just so quick, we have such a tough time matching up with them,” DiCurzio said of his decision to go into a zone defense for the second half. “We had to play a lot more zone than we wanted to.”
The zone wasn’t the only thing that buoyed the Blazers in the third quarter. Blazers’ guard Shirliz Apiyo scored 10 points after being held scoreless in the first half. Back-to-back Finals MVP Jess Marx-Houndle was active scoring and rebounding the ball, pitching in 13 points and 12 rebounds after three.
“I thought (Shirliz) deserved it to be honest,” Marx-Houndle said of being named Finals MVP for the second year in a row. “She hit some clutch shots and we needed that.”
Apiyo hit a jumper to go ahead 53-51 with under a minute left to seal the win for the Blazers.
Marx-Houndle, as modest as she is, had a huge night. She produced 17 points, 19 rebounds, four assists, two steals, shot 71% from the free-throw line and played all forty minutes. With 1:30 left in the fourth quarter, she scored a lay-up, got fouled and sank the free throw to tie the game.
“To be honest, I did not think I played that good. I told myself that if I just hustled, even if I didn’t make shots, we’d be ok. Then I won’t get mad with how I played,” Marx-Houndle said of her performance.
“Jessica came through and played incredible, like the veteran she is. She’s used to playing under pressure, and it doesn’t bother her whatsoever,” DiCurzio said of Marx-Houndle’s performance.
On the flip side of things, the Pilots were led by semi-final MVP Hannah Van Schie who contributed 14 points, 11 rebounds and three steals.
Saturday was the first time the Pilots made it through to the final in five years, and the second time they’ve made it under head coach Joel Coursey.