Harrisonburg, Va. - For one half of play, the Eastern Mennonite basketball women hung with one of the best teams in the country. But No. 13 Messiah took over in the second half, grabbing the lead and handing the Royals a 73-65 loss in the championship game of the Messiah Tip-Off Tournament.
EMU had the biggest lead of a back-and-forth first half, when Jess Rheinheimer (Manheim, PA/Lancaster Mennonite) hit a layup to put the women up 19-14 at the 10:14 mark. At halftime, the Royals led 41-40, fueled by 54% shooting.
The Falcons, a NCAA Tournament qualifier last year, settled down in the second half. They opened with back-to-back buckets to take over a lead which they never relinquished. Messiah used strong defense to limit the Royals and build a 21-7 run over the first 12 minutes of the half.
EMU got within nine points a couple of times, but would get no closer until scoring the final four points for the final 73-65 margin.
The women shot 43% from the floor, including just 32% in the decisive second half. They were also out-rebounded 44-30 by Messiah, but finished 4-for-8 from three-point range and a solid 15-for-23 from the free throw line.
Bianca Ygarza (Conestoga, PA/Penn Manor) had a solid game, leading all players with 19 points. She also had seven rebounds, including four offensive boards. Steph Rheinheimer (Manheim, PA/Lancaster Mennonite) drilled all four of EMU's triples and totaled 15 points. Jess Rheinheimer and Shakeerah Sykes (Dumfries, VA/Forest Park) each had nine off the bench.
Keyla Baltimore (Bristow, VA/Brentsville District) had six boards and five assists, while Kala Yoders (Myerstown, PA/Eastern Lebanon County) added eight points and seven rebounds.
Juniors Bianca Ygarza and Stephanie Rheinheimer were named to the All-Tournament Team after the game.
The women got a good taste of quality basketball at the season-opening tourney, splitting decisions against a pair of teams which went to the NCAA Tournament in 2011-12. After a week-long break, the Royals take on talented Ferrum College in their home opener next Saturday. Tip-off is 3:00pm in Yoder Arena.