It seemed like the South Dakota School of Mines women's basketball team was heading towards cruise control, leading Colorado Christian University by as much as 15 in the third period.
But the Hardrockers hit a speed bump or two — losing sophomore guard cooper Courtney to a knee injury, while Melissa Johnstone was battling a bloody nose. It also didn't help that Colorado Christian, which had struggled some offensively for most of the game, was catching fire.
The Cougars battled back from a 10-point deficit to begin the fourth for a one-point lead before the Lady Hardrockers prevailed 66-60 Saturday at the King Center.
Suddenly down 60-59, Mines didn't hit a field goal in the final five minutes, but was 8-of-9 from the free throw-line in the last three minutes to pull out the win.
"Coop went down and Mel had a bloody nose. I was getting Anna (Haugen, junior forward) ready to play guard. I wasn't sure what we would do if something else happened," Mines coach Ryan Larsen said. "The kids are resilient and they trust each other. Our record doesn't show it, but it is a sign of a good team to bounce back from a game like (Friday night)."
Sophomore Michaela Shaklee got the Hardrockers back in the lead when she was fouled on a 3-pointer attempt and she canned all three free throws.
Sami Steffeck hit two more free throws with 10.7 seconds remaining and Shaklee closed the scoring with 2.5 seconds left with two more form the charity stripe.
"We work on them every day in practice. It comes down to the end of the game, we took a deep breath and shot them like we always do," Shaklee said. "I was proud of how we played."
Shaklee came off the bench for some valuable minutes and production, scoring 13 points, hitting two 3-pointers and all five of her free throws.
"In the fourth quarter after Cooper went down, we were dwindling on numbers, so we just pulled together and stayed composed and played with poise and slowly chipped away and the free throws sealed the game, Shaklee said.
Shaklee's career high was 16 points earlier in the season against Dakota State, but she had scored just nine points since then, going scoreless in previous four games.
"I have been in a shooting slump the last few games, but my team just kept believing in me and giving me the ball," she said. "After Cooper went down I knew it was my time to step up. coach always tells me to stay ready and that is what I did. I gave it my all for my team."
Mines led 19-9 at the end of the first period, 30-23 at halftime and 53-43 going into the fourth.
In the fourth quarter, Larsen said they had every opportunity to fold, but they stayed together.
"Our kids were aggressive. They fouled us but we did get to the free-throw line today," Larsen said. "A lot of credit goes to the kids. We ran one specific action from our offense today, just because that was something we thought we could take advantage of. We did a tremendous job of executing that.
Steffeck and Shaklee led a balanced scoring attack with 13 points each, while Taylor Molstad, Courtney and Haugen all scored 10 points.
Defensively and offensively, Larsen was happy with how the team played.
"We're starting to peak defensively, which is a good thing. You have to outscore people, but I am very happy with our defense and glad we broke 50 and got in the 60s," he said.
Jordan Baer led Colorado Christian with 19 points, followed by Sarah McGinley with 16 and Marie Tsiungui with 10.
The win was the Hardrockers second in league play (2-7) and put them at 5-8 overall.
It was a much-needed win, Larsen admits.
"It's been too long that I have been saying we have been close, but with no results," he said. "You have to get in the win column and hopefully that propels us for a little bit right now."
Mines is at Colorado Mines and Colorado Colorado Springs next weekend.