ALTON — It doesn't seem that long ago the Marquette Catholic Explorers were reeling on a seven-game losing skid.
But times, they are a changin'.
The Explorers have won three out of four and even a layoff for the holiday break couldn't slow them, as they walloped Prairie State Conference rival Bunker Hill 65-35 Monday at MCHS. After the win Marquette is now 5-10 overall and 2-0 in the PSC.
“I think the (Gibault Candy Cane Classic) helped us out with getting our confidence higher and now we have a good streak going for us and we've got a lot of confidence,” Marquette senior guard Caitlyn Hanlon said.
That seven-game losing streak abruptly stopped at the Gibault Candy Cane Classic, where the Explorers won two games to reach the tournament finals. They then played the Waterloo Bulldogs tight, losing just 44-42 in the title tilt on Dec. 19.
But that was the last time Marquette played a game before Monday, remaining idle for the holidays. Head coach Meagan Hanlon worried that the layoff could squash the momentum, but that definitely wasn't the case.
“We talked about that almost every practice in our huddle in the end that I didn't want that to happen,” Hanlon said of losing that momentum. “We came back from a seven-game losing streak and worked and kept at it and kept at it. I didn't want to come back and not be prepared.
“(Tonight) was really pleasing. Every player played and they all played well, all hustled. I'm extremely proud of them.”
The Explorers dominated on the offensive boards, especially early in the game. Brittany Pace was a big part of that. The 6-foot-1 senior forward poured in a game-high 16 points, 12 of them coming in the first quarter.
After a traditional 3-point play by Pace, Marquette led 7-3. A pair of free throws by the Minutemaids cut it to 7-5, but then the Explorers raced out on a 13-0 run to nab a 20-5 advantage. It was the first of three big scoring sprees in the game for Marquette.
Pace scored the final seven points of the first-quarter run.
“I just try my best and everyone surrounding me and helping me gave me the drive to help push us forward,” Pace said.
Pace admitted that an evolving chemistry within the team has been the most glaring factor in their improvement.
“We're working really well together and we're starting to mesh and get to know each other a lot better and how each other plays,” she said. “We hadn't really played together that much, so it's really good seeing us come together and build each other up.”
A late field goal and 3-pointer from Bunker Hill's Ashley Dey cut it back to 20-10 at the close of the first quarter.
The Minutemaids hit a free throw early in the second quarter to dwindle it to 20-11, but the Explorers took off again, this time racing on a 13-0 spurt to balloon their lead to 33-11.
Caitlyn Hanlon was able to force some turnovers at the top of the key and transform them into transition points during the scoring spree. She said it was a matter of reading the Bunker Hill offense.
“Their passing was a little weak, so it was easy to get up top and steal it from them and then they looked right where they were passing, so I had an easy chance to take it,” she said. “I was reading it.”
Marquette carried a commanding 40-16 lead into the break, but it was the third big run that really put the game away.
Allison Hoefert's basket with 54 seconds to go in the first half sparked a 21-0 run that lasted until the 1:37 mark of the third quarter. The Explorers outscored Bunker Hill 19-2 in the third quarter and led 59-18 entering the fourth quarter.
Altogether 9 Marquette players contributed to the scoring. Hanlon scored 13 to join Brittany Pace in double figures. Lila Snider had 9 points and 11 rebounds in the win, too.
“I thought we'd be a little quicker than them and would be able to pressure them up top,” Meagon Hanlon said. “Caitlyn and Peyton (Kline) and Lila and Taylor (Aguirre) were in there just getting steals and pushing it up the court. We pushed it up the court quite a bit this game.”
Caitlyn Hanlon said a continued commitment to team chemistry is the goal to keep the Explorers improving.
“We need to keep working together, that's helped us a lot,” she said. “In the beginning we didn't work together very well. Now we're talking more and hopefully we continue winning and keep our heads up.”
PRAIRIE STATE CONFERENCE
MARQUETTE 65, BUNKER HILL 35
Minutemaids 10 6 2 17 — 35
Explorers 20 20 19 6 — 65
MARQUETTE (5-10, 2-0) — Andria Pace 8, Lila Snider 9, Peyton Kline 6, Caitlyn Hanlon 13, Brittany Pace 16, Kelsey Blasingim 1, Elena Gable 8, Allison Hoefert 2, Lauren Fischer 2. 2FG — 22 3FG — 4 FT — 9 PF — 9.
BUNKER HILL (2-14, 0-3) — Ashley Dey 11, Mallory Schwegel 4, Natasha Schellingburger 3, Megan Leseman 10, Haley Burris 3, Olivia Mellenthin 2, Madelyn Allman 2. 2FG — 8 3FG — 5 FT — 4 PF — 15.