WINONA, Minn. When Angie Arrington (Spring Grove, Minn.), Jamie Rattunde (Rollingstone, Minn.) and Tessa Stranik (Eatonville, Wash.) were five and probably first learning how to dribble a basketball the Saint Mary's University women's basketball team recorded a 60-58 victory over St. Benedict in a Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game.
Seventeen years later, the SMU trio all grown up did something that no other Cardinals had done since that Dec. 12 afternoon in 1987: They guided SMU to a win over St. Benedict.
The Cardinals, behind Rattunde's fourth straight double-double 12 points and 10 rebounds Arrington's 10 points and a 20-point effort from junior Ashley Luehmann (Lewiston, Minn.), held off the three-time defending MIAC champion Blazers 61-54 Monday evening at the SMU Gym.
"What a win," understated SMU coach Dan Messmann of Monday's victory, which snapped the Cardinals' 35-game losing streak vs. CSB. "That was a great college basketball game. We knew coming in that we could play with (St. Ben's) we proved that the first time around (in a 65-54 loss on the Blazers' home court) and tonight we came out and got the job done."
Along with their first win vs. CSB since 1997, the Cardinals also solidified their stranglehold on the No. 4 spot in the MIAC playoff race a spot that, if SMU can hang on to it would give the Cardinals home court for the opening round of the playoffs.
"(Last Saturday's) win against Gustavus was a big boost for us," said Messmann of the Cardinals' 61-55 victory over GAC. "That put us ahead of them in the playoff race, and gave us the inside track on home court.
"But as big as that win was, tonight's was even sweeter we've played some close games against them over the years, but we never quite able to get over the hump."
Monday night, the Cardinals finally did.
After battling to a 21-21 stalemate through 20 minutes, SMU jumped out to what seemed like a commanding 37-25 lead with a 14-4 run to open the second half. But the Blazers battled back, cutting the lead to one, 51-50, on a pair of free throws by Jen Dalhed with 5:14 remaining.
Unfazed by the Blazers' late-game run, SMU calmly scored 10 of the game's final 14 points including a three-pointer from Megan Moran (Burlington, Wis.) and a pair of free throws from both Stranik and Rattunde to ice the win.
"I can't say enough about the effort tonight," said Messmann. "(St. Benedict coach) Mike (Durbin) has built an outstanding program they have been the cream of the crop for a number of years, and finally getting a win against them really gets that monkey off our backs.
"I told the team to savor the win for the next 24 hours, but then it's back to business," continued Messmann, whose team is back in action Wednesday, when they play host to Hamline in a 5:30 p.m. game. "We took a giant step forward tonight we can't afford to take a step backwards (Wednesday)."