By Kyle Wills
Following a stupendous 23-5 regular season from the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team, a loss to Oakland University in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Championship put its season in limbo.
After receiving a first-round bye, the Penguins fell to the Golden Grizzlies 63-52. Senior Lilly Ritz scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds with fellow senior Chelsea Olson close behind with 18 points.
Both combined to score 40 of the team’s points as the rest of Youngstown State shot a combined 4-for-21 with sophomore Malia Magestro unable to play with an injury. The team also struggled at the line, shooting 7-for-14.
The women were able to start the game with a 17-13 lead after the first quarter, but were outscored in the remaining three.
Kahlaijah Dean made her return for Oakland, as she missed the last few games, and scored 18 points to lead the Golden Grizzlies.
Defensively, the women struggled to keep Oakland in check as they shot over 47% from 3-point.
They also lost the turnover battle 13-6.
Following the game, head coach John Barnes cited a key injury as a big blow to the team.
“Not having Malia killed us. She was out with an injury, and what are you going to do? She’s our third-leading scorer, probably our most aggressive driving [to the hoop], our best 3-point shooter,” Barnes said.
Despite making an early exit from the Horizon League Championship, the Penguins looked to rewrite their season finish with an accepted invitation to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Barnes said being able to play in the WNIT is a great opportunity for the team.
“Being able to be in a national tournament with BCS schools is exciting, is an honor, it’s a reward, really. Fortunately, we have a great administration that allowed us to host this game, so there’s a lot of excitement among the team and the community,” Barnes said.
Junior guard Mady Aulbach said the team is trying to stretch out the season as long as possible.
“The biggest thing about this year is we don’t want the season to end. The fact that it’s March, we’re still playing and we get to play in a really good tournament and play a really good team, it’s really exciting for us,” Aulbach said.
The women took on Kent State University at the Beeghly Center March 16, but fell short to the Flashes 68-59.
Olson scored 11 points in 13 minutes, but an ankle injury in the second quarter forced her out for the rest of the game. Over the next 13 minutes following the injury, Kent State took advantage with a 27-6 run and was ahead by as much as 14.
The Penguins battled back to trim the lead to 5, but couldn’t slide ahead. Magestro and Ritz tried to pick up the offensive slack as they finished with 16 and 14 points, respectively.
The women’s basketball team closed out its season after achieving many accolades, including tying the most conference wins in program history with 18 and becoming conference champions for the first time in 23 years.