PDT Sports Editor
After Sunday's game against St. Francis, Tara Walker was minding her own business, chatting in the stands.
Out of nowhere, teammate Shannon Leasure and Shawnee State student Dave Bobo walked over and, playing the role of adoring fans, asked if Walker would sign their T-shirts. Emblazoned across the front of the shirts was a picture of Walker. Their hero sheepishly agreed.
Let the Tara Walker fan club begin.
Walker scored 22 points for the second straight night, leading No. 6 Shawnee State to a 71-64 victory over No. 15 St. Francis in the final game of the Wendy's Classic at the James A. Rhodes Athletic Center. Walker is just two points away from 1,000 for her career. She would become the 20th Bear to reach the milestone, and will join teammates Heather Schilling and Shannon Thomas in the exclusive club.
“That's a mark everyone tries to reach,” Walker said. “I don't set a goal (of how many points I should score every game). I'm next to the bucket, I should make the shot. If I don't have 20 points, but do the other things right, I'm satisfied.”
Against St. Francis, the Bears needed something, anything, in the way of scoring out of their starting five. At halftime, just 12 of Shawnee State's 33 points were scored by starters. All 12 were by Walker.
Walker, who leads the NAIA in field goal percentage, finished the game 10 of 13 from the field. Scoring on myriad of moves, she was a bright spot offensively as Shawnee State fell behind 11-6 with 15:52 to go in the first half.
St. Francis built its lead to 17-6 before the Bears' bench once again came through. With five non-starter on the floor - Leasure, Anna Ramey, Karen Diehl, Becky Babione and Kelly Wagner - Shawnee State went on a 13-4 run that rattled St. Francis into calling the game's first timeout.
“We got some easier shots, got a little more movement,” Shawnee State coach Robin Hagen-Smith said. “Kelly took it to the hoop. Karen is a scoring machine. we just scored.”
St. Francis hung around, though, and trailed 33-30 at halftime. After a long talk in the lockeroom, Shawnee State didn't lose its edge, and built a 49-39 lead in the first nine minutes of the second half. During the spurt, Schilling, Andrea Rudmann and Mandy Deal all hit 3-pointers.
Deal finished with seven points and six assists, and continued showing defenses a willingness to shoot when teams double down on Walker.
“It opens our offense up,” Deal said. “We've played teams that don't even guard me. I've tried to take the open shot. That makes getting it to our shooters much easier.”
The freshman Diehl was the only other Bear in double figures with 12 points. She also added six rebounds. Kelly Wagner pitched in eight points off the bench.
“They have 10 good kids,” St. Francis coach Gary Andrews said. “We think we can play with anybody. We just missed some easy shots.”
One Cougar who didn't miss many open looks was Megan Dossen. The 5-foot-10 forward finished with game highs in points (25) and rebounds (10).
Shawnee State rebounded from losses on the road to Georgetown and No. 2 Cedarville with a 2-0 weekend.
“(The wins) were extremely important after two losses,” Deal said. “We can't let that define our season.”
The Bears play again on Tuesday against College of the Cumberlands, No. 25 in NAIA Division I. After that, Shawnee State will get a break for Christmas before jumping back into conference play against Urbana.
“Georgetown, Cedarville, Notre Dame, St. Francis and the College of the Cumberlands coming up,” Hagen-Smith said. “That's some major games to prepare for. I don't remember a stretch like this against nationally-raked teams.”
Tip-off on Tuesday it at 4 p.m.
JASON R. CRISLER can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 242 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
St. Francis (64)
Kline 0-3 0-0 0, Lewis 6-14 2-3 14, Engelking 3-8 2-3 10, Dossen 7-16 9-11 25, Keppeler 5-8 4-6 14, Carey 0-4 1-2 1, Jenkins 0-1 0-0 0, Dice 0-0 0-0 0, Kauffman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-54 18-25 64.
Shawnee State (71)
Deal 2-5 2-2 7, Schilling 1-4 0-0 3, Thomas 1-3 0-0 2, Rudman 1-3 0-0 3, Walker 10-13 2-6 22, Ramey 0-2 5-6 5, Wagner 3-9 2-2 8, Leasure 3-9 0-0 7, Babione 0-5 2-2 2, Diehl 5-8 2-2 12. Totals 26-61 15-20 71.
Halftime - Shawnee State 33, St. Francis 30. Fouled out - St. Francis (Kline), Shawnee State (Thomas). Rebounds - St. Francis 37 (Dossen 10), Shawnee State 37 (Schilling 6, Diehl 6). Assists - St. Francis 10 (Kline 5), Shawnee State 15 (Deal 6). Total fouls - St. Francis 15, Shawnee State 20.