The McPherson College women are steadily making their way up the KCAC basketball standings.
After starting conference play 2-0, the Bulldogs fell on hard times with five straight losses, including a pair of last-second heart-breakers at the Sport Center to upper-crest teams Ottawa and Friends.
But Mac finished the 2015 portion of the KCAC schedule with a victory over Oklahoma Wesleyan and followed that up here Saturday with a 64-59 success against Sterling to move within a game of the .500 mark at 4-5.
Mac, now 7-12 overall with four wins in its last six games, is tied with Southwestern for sixth place and at this point holds the tiebreaker over the Moundbuilders, who actually come to town next Saturday.
Defense again keyed the Bulldogs, who suddenly have gone into lockdown mode. They gave up just 48 points on Thursday against future KCAC member York in a non-conference game and held Sterling in check after it had scored 85 two nights earlier.
A highlight was the defensive work of Mac’s Bailey Brown on Sterling’s 13th-ranked national scorer Hailey Davis, who did get 16 points, but was blanked in two of the four quarters as she had eight points in the second and fourth quarters.
“Bailey is just quite an athlete, she can go and go and go. She’s always guarding the other team’s best player,” Mac coach Gordon Reimer said. “She can handle it. She’s really composed. She’s a true competitor.”
The Bulldogs took an 8-6 lead 3 minutes into the game and, despite the close score, never gave it up. They led by as many as 14 points during one stage, but Sterling was able to get as close as 57-56 with 1:30 remaining. However, two free throws each by Brown and Reagan McClellan and another by Ashton Bruner salted the game away, as the Bulldogs now have a game lead on seventh-place Saint Mary, and are two up on Sterling, Bethel and Bethany.
Bruner was another big story. Sterling simply had nobody athletic enough to stay with her as she wheeled and dealed her way to 20 points and 10 rebounds. She was incredibly active on the glass, time and again scoring on put-backs. She helped the Bulldogs to a double-digit rebounding advantage, 43-32. Brown, who had 18 points, pulled down seven rebounds and Georgia Smart hustled to grab six.
Sunny Smart again delivered from outside, knocking down three 3-pointers and finished with 14 points as she has strung together nice some games recently to take the pressure off the inside game.
Little River product Megan Stagner added 15 points for Sterling and Jordin Greer scored all 10 of her points in the second half.
Mac completes first-round KCAC play on Thursday in Leavenworth taking on Saint Mary. The schedule is much friendlier to the Bulldogs during the second go-around as six of their 10 games will be at home, where they are now 5-2 on the year.
Reimer said he was pleased that his team is now starting to win the close games it was losing earlier in the year. It’s the third win by five points or less.
Mac (64) — Bruner 20, G. Smart 6, Brown 18, S. Smart 14, McClellan 4, Allen 2.
Sterling (59) — Stagner 15, Greer 10, Brickell 3, Davis 16, Princ 5, Waters 2, Sokoloski 6, Gasper 2.