Baseball: Bonnies Draw Familiar Foe in A-10 Tournament

(Aaron Phillips, photo credit Olean Times Herald)

By Josh Svetz @Svetz17

After the St. Bonaventure Bonnies secured the third seed last Friday against Fordham, fans waited anxiously to see who the Bonnies would face in the opening round of the A-10 Tournament.

Before the Saturday games started, it looked certain the Bonnies would take on the surging Saint Joseph’s Hawks for the first time this season.

But a strange wave of events commenced.

The Hawks, who had previously dominated George Washington two games straight, lost it’s regular season finale to the Colonials in a blow out. Then, after being blown out twice by St. Louis, George Mason put together a last-ditch effort and won the final game against the Billikens securing the final spot in the tournament.

St. Louis moved down to the five spot, pushing George Washington up to the fourth and Davidson rested in the sixth spot.

The Hawks were out, and the Bonnies now had a date with one of the toughest teams they’ve faced in conference this season, the Davidson Wildcats.

Back in March, the Bonnies were a sub-par club looking for answers. Out of conference they sat at 5-5, but had a little momentum going with two straight wins over North Dakota State, winning both games despite being shut out in the series opener.

Opening conference play against the Wildcats in North Carolina, the Bonnies stayed neck and neck, tied at one, through four innings.

Then, the inflammation in starting pitcher Brandon Schlimm’s throwing arm acted up. Schlimm gave up three runs and the Bonnies were down 4-1.

Hope shined through when the Bonnies got a man on base, but the sunshine vanished quickly.

A rain delay forced the game to be finished the next day and the Bonnies couldn’t recover, losing 9-2. Just an hour after that loss, the Bonnies had to go out and play again, losing by the same score.

But the next day, in the final game of the series, the Bonnies dominated the Wildcats 17-4, led by a six hit, eight RBI domination by David Hollins. The Bonnies also got a great performance from starting pitcher Aaron Phillips, giving up three-earned runs, five hits and tossing seven strikeouts.

That loss sent the Wildcats into a tailspin, dropping the next five games.

With Phillips likely to start and the Bonnies not dealing with rain delays, pitcher injuries or home field advantage, it’s more likely the team that beat the Wildcats last time will show up, rather than the shell that got beat down twice in a row in a span of three hours.

Still — winning is far from guaranteed.

The Wildcats feature top conference players like Will Robertson and Brian Fortier, two bombers ranking top 30 in the NCAA for home runs.

In fact, the Wildcats rank 20th in the NCAA, averaging 1.26 home runs per game.

But the biggest factor may be ace pitcher Durin O’Linger, who’s compiled a 1.33 ERA through the months of April and May in seven starts.

Despite the offense on both sides, a pitching duel looks evident with two studs like Phillips and O’Linger likely slinging for their teams.

The number one key to victory is Phillips keeping the Wildcat bombers at bay, something he should be able to do giving up just six home runs this season.

As much success as the Bonnies have had recently, there’s two teams that have come to play this season.

This afternoon we find out if the Bonnies are the back-to-back losers Davidson saw in the first two games, or the dominant winners that closed out the Wildcats in the final game of the series.

Behind The Wolfpack: Bonnies’ Recent Play Gives Hope For The Future

[St. Bonaventure may be on the outside looking in at the Atlantic 10 Tournament, but recent play has given hope for the future – Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

By Ryan Lazo, Editor-in-Chief, @RMLazo13

BRONX, N.Y. — Everyone knew it would be tough for St. Bonaventure to even come close to experiencing the same type of success they had during last season’s magical run to the Sweet 16, but the surprise is success now comes in small increments.

The Bonnies compiled a 31-4 record, capturing the regular season Atlantic 10 Conference champion crown and one Jessica Jenkins’ 3-pointer from being the outright champs, but fell short in the tournament finals against Dayton. Graduating three senior starters in Megan Van Tatenhove, Jenkins and Armelia Horton, part of the winningest class in program history, didn’t help either.

However, this Bona squad still had six players returning from last year’s squad, three of which who figured to be instrumental in continuing the winning tradition. But injuries struck, knocking Chelsea Bowker and her career 39 percent 3-point shooting out for the season.

CeCe Dixon averaged 7.6 points per game last season and was expected to pick up some of the scoring slack, but while she has modestly improved her points per game average to 8.4, it has not been the improvement Bona had hoped.

Dixon’s struggles have mirrored the struggles of the team —  a season once full of hope turned to one of lessons to be learned. And against a Fordham squad that eclipsed the 20-win plateau for the first time in program history, school was in session once again.

Bona won the opening tip and as almost as quick as they gained possession, Fordham struck quick by capturing an early 12-4 advantage. But as Bona has done all season, they fought back almost immediately and this run was led by Dixon.

The 5-foot-3 guard nailed two 3-pointers including one in which she was fouled on and completed a conventional 4-point play to cut the deficit to 12-11.

“That’s us,” Bona coach Jim Crowley said of his young team. “That’s been the most frustrating part of this season is that we haven’t embraced that. But in the last three games at least, we have. We can control how hard we play. We may not be great shooters, but we can play really hard and give ourselves a chance.”

Yes, small baby-steps for these Bonnies.

Slowly, but surely they have learned to play hard no matter what the scoreboard might say or the situation is dictating. It’s a trademark of a Crowley coached team and it finally surfaced in a loss to No. 14 Dayton last week.

Trailing by 13 points with just 37 seconds remaining, the Bonnies fought to the bitter end, stealing inbounds passes and swishing threes with ruthless efficiency to pull as close as 65-61. But that was as close as they would come.

Against Fordham, Bona trailed 41-27 at the half only to roar out of the locker room on a mission. After their No. 14 ranked 3-point defense surrender nine 3-pointers in the first half, Bona locked down and contested every shot. It was their defense which fueled the offense as they went on a 20-7 run to open up the half.

But once again, their comeback efforts were for not as they could not finish the deal.

“It’s good to see them buying in,” Crowley said. “We’ll see if they continue to and that can give us some real good momentum as we head into the offseason.”

The dreaded offseason word.

Yes, the defending regular season A-10 Champions were officially eliminated from the A-10 Tournament with last night’s loss, leaving them on the outside looking in after an historical season.

But Crowley had a point.

While the success may not be easy to find on a grisly 9-19 record, including nine losses in a row, progress is being made.

Crowley has overseen rebuilding projects before and is doing so once again. For three consecutive seasons, Bona’s head man oversaw a nine-win team, but then something clicked. The team no longer feared opponents and their play improved much like it’s doing again.

The last freshmen class turned into the winningest in program history. While it would be unfair to compare the two, there are plenty of similarities between them and it begins with Katie Healy.

Healy has improved as she has played more games, especially within conference play. The freshman forward is second on the team, averaging 11 points and nabbing 6.8 rebounds per contest. However, it’s her game, one that includes polished footwork in the paint and a deft touch from the outside that has made some to compare her to Van Tatenhove.

Emily Michael has not scored a lot this season, but she has started in 20 consecutive games, becoming a reliable option for Crowley. The Ohio native continually makes the right decisions and plays tough defense with an ability to hit from the outside at a 30 percent clip.

Even Nyla Rueter has come alive in conference play, scoring a career-high 15 points against Charlotte. Her 38 percent shooting from the field will only improve as she becomes more confident in her stroke.

Add to them the return of Dixon, Bowker and Doris Ortega who leads the Bonnies in points per game, rebounds and assists and suddenly the team looks promising once again.

“We know what they can be, but we don’t see it on a consistent basis,” Crowley said after his team’s loss to Fordham. “It’s been good the past couple of games where we’ve seen that consistent effort. Now that we have that and as we head into the offseason, we can really focus on getting people better.”

A win against La Salle won’t mean anything to the Bonnies record, but it would send Bona into the offseason on a high note, setting the stage for a rapid turnaround next season with a group who has learned how to compete in the A-10 Conference.

Column: Dynamic Duo leads Bonnies into A-10 Finals

[Photo by Daulton Sherwin]

By Joseph Phelan, Staff Writer, @jphelan13 Pin It

PHILADELPHIA- In what has been a record setting season thus far, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies reached another milestone with their 78-52 victory over the Saint Joseph’s Hawks in Hagan Arena.

The victory in the semifinal round of the Atlantic 10 Championship Tournament moved the Bonnies (29-2) into the finals for the first time in program history. 

Credit has to be given to the dynamic duo of Megan Van Tatenhove and Jessica Jenkins, who combined to score 49-points, just three shy of the entire Hawks team.

Van Tatenhove scored early and often as she dominated the post and took advantage of the absence of St. Joseph’s best interior defender, Samira Van Grinsven, who had two quick fouls.

“We wanted to get her touches,” Crowley said. “We thought it was a favorable matchup.”

[Related: Video of Crowley, Jenkins, Van Tatenhove, Horton talking about SJU and Dayton games]

Van Tatenhove used an assortment of moves to devastate the Hawks defense. Pump-fakes, dips, up and unders and spin moves were all on display to those in attendance. 

She went 9-of-17 from the field including 1-for-2 from 3-point range en route to scoring 27-points.

It was the senior’s dominance inside that opened things up for the Bonnies on the perimeter, especially for Jenkins.

Jenkins, utilizing the space given to her because of Van Tatenhove, knocked down three 3-pointers in the opening half. 

“Every time she shoots it I know it is going in,” Van Tatenhove said. 

But maybe the most impressive of Jenkins game-high four 3-pointers was the lone one she hit in the second half.

With 9:17 remaining in the game and the Bonnies up 50-40, St. Joseph’s Ashley Prim drove to the lane looking to bring the Hawks to within eight.

But Jenkins was waiting for her.

She stripped the ball for a steal, dribbled up the court and spotted up for the 3-pointer, buried it and effectively ended a Hawks rally. 

That steal prompted a 17-5 Bonnies run that ended the Hawks chances and turned the game into a laugher. 

“There a lot of people who make shots,  but there are not a lot of people who can make big shots,” Crowley said.

Luckily for the Bonnies, Jenkins is one of those players. 

Jenkins shot 7-of-11 from the field including 4-for-7 from 3-point range, finishing with 22-points.

But it was not all Van Tatenhove and Jenkins.

Alaina Walker provided a spark of her own when on a loose ball she dove to the floor, fully extending her body to gain possession.

“That is the backbone of who we are,” Crowley said. “We can control how hard we play and the clock doesn’t matter, the score doesn’t matter, the opponent doesn’t matter and our kids believe that.”

The Bonnies will bring the same intensity into the finals for a rematch with the Dayton Flyers, a team they beat on the road, 56-55.

One step away from an A-10 Championship, the Bonnies will continue to play their game, following the lead of their dynamic duo.

Column: Team effort propels Bonnies into Semifinals

[Photo by Tony Lee]

By Joseph Phelan, Staff Writer, @jphelan13 Pin It

The St. Bonaventure Bonnies faced some not so pretty history today in the quarterfinal round of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.

The Bonnies had never advance past the the round in program history and they were up against a La Salle team that hung with them tough in a 75-57 triumph during the regular season.

This time the Bonnies also used a second half rally to beat the Explorers, 68-53 in Hagan Arena.

It looked like they wouldn’t need to rally in the second half when they jumped out to a 16-2 advantage in the games opening moments, but then they cooled down. 

Bonnies coach Jim Crowley said the Explorers changed their defensive strategy.

“I thought La Salle did a great job in the 1st half in mixing defenses,” said Crowley.

He was right.

The Explorers changed from their man-to-man defense to a 3-2 zone, limiting the Bonnies chances of going inside. Instead they settle for long-range 3-point attempts.

But La Salle had another reason for their first half success — redshirt junior Brittany Wilson.

The junior torched the Bonnies for 17-points in the games opening 20-minutes.

But that is just where this St. Bonaventure team is known to show it’s true colors.

“We are at our best when things are challenging,” said Crowley.

Coming out of the locker room on a tear, the Bonnies ripped off eight straight points and never looked back. 

“I think it was important that we jumped out quick because we kind of faded near the end of the first half,” said Megan Van Tatenhove. 

But the Bonnies would be put in a bind after Alaina Walker picked up her third foul just a few minutes into the second half.

However, Crowley’s decision to inset CeCe Dixon may have been a game-changer.

Dixon’s defense helped render Wilson effectiveless as she recorded only two more points the rest of the way.

“She (Dixon) is the 6th starter for us,” said Crowley. “I think she is the best player off the bench in the league.” 

Dixon said not playing like a team hurt them in the first half.

“In the 2nd half, we needed to play more like a team,” she said. “We wanted to win.” 

And the Bonnies did just that.

Van Tatenhove was one of five Bonnies to score in double-figures.

“We have a great group of girls,” Van Tatenhove said. “If one person isn’t stepping up or having a rough game, we have that balanced attack.” 

The Bonnies advance to the semi-finals for the first time in program history.

“We are usually heading home on Sunday,” said Crowley.

And with a team-first approach, the Bonnies continued their march to become A-10 champs.

Column: Bona survives scare, makes history

[Fans at the Reilly Center thank the Bonnies for a history making season – Photo by Melissa Scott]

By Joseph Phelan, Staff Writer, @jphelan13

History happened again on Wednesday night. 

For the first time in program history, St. Bonaventure clinched the No. 1 overall seed for the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Despite trailing by six at halftime and being out rebounded 36-to-21 by the Fordham Rams (11-17, 2-11) , like they have done all season, the Bonnies (26-2, 13-0) found a way to win.

“That’s been the story of this team,” Crowley said. “We talked at halftime, we’ve been in tough situations all year and we’ve leaned on each other. People just made plays.”

The Bonnies would defeat the Ram’s 52-45 in front of 1,812 fans at the Reilly Center. This time it was CeCe Dixon who supplied the play that turned the game around.

Her 3-pointer gave the Bonnies the lead for good with less than eight minutes to play. 

But perhaps more importantly, Jordan McGee did the dirty work for the Bonnies. 

She made all the hustle plays and played stout defense, keeping the Rams in check and the Bonnies in the game.

Unlike previous games, St. Bonaventure made things difficult for themselves, shooting only 36.4 percent in the first half.

“We made shots difficult for ourselves,” Megan Van Tatenhove said.

Fordham’s penchent for defense is what keeps them in every game. In fact, heading into last night’s game they led the conference in scoring defense, allowing only 54 points per game.

“I give Fordham a ton of credit. They play really, really hard,” Crowley said. “We knew it would be a difficult game.”

In the first half Fordham knocked down five treys, but they soon faltered in the second, not making a single 3-point attempt.

The Bonnies adjusted the game plan at halftime.

“The way we defend the ball screen,” Crowley said. “We were late with our rotations. We adjusted how we defend that.” 

The game may have been a potential scare before tournament play, but the focus should be on what they accomplished — a No. 1 seed and the first Division I team at St. Bonaventure to win a regular season title.

“It’s not supposed to happen,” Crowley said. “Look at the last fifteen years for the teams who’ve been the number 1 seed in our conference tournament. Look at the size of the school. Look at where they are located. Look at funding. You know it’s not supposed to happen and it just did.”

He can credit the seniors all he wants, and deservedly so. They have completed turned this program around. 

But Crowley ensued his trust in them and guided them to where they are today. If not for Crowley, who knows where this program would be.

In the Cinderella story of the college basketball world, the Bonnies continue to overcome any and every obstacle that comes their way. 

And as March settles in on the horizon, history is sure to be made. 

Column: Van Tatenhove shines brightest on Senior Day

[Megan Van Tatenhove scored the Bonnies’ first 15-points en route to a 66-48 victory over Xavier – Photo by Melissa Scott]

By Joseph Phelan, Staff Writer, @jphelan13

On a day St. Bonaventure seniors were honored for their contributions to the program, it was Megan Van Tatenhove who stood out the most.

In front of 3,824 alumni, fans and students, Van Tatenhove dazzled by scoring her team’s first 15 points, doing so in a variety of ways.

She made spinning lay-ups, she hit 14-foot jumpers and she even knocked down two 3-pointers. 

Van Tatenhove didn’t just flourish in the first half. She dominated.

“It is nice,” Van Tatenhove said. “My shot felt very good. And I was able to open things up for my teammates in the second half.”

There was not much there for Bona coach Jim Crowley to lament over as his team once again played fundamentally sound basketball.

They recorded a season-low in turnovers, only four for the game, and out-rebounded Xavier 43 to 36.

[Related: Photos from St. Bonaventure vs. Xavier game]

While the buzz around the Bonnies has been on Crowley’s coaching methods and Jessica Jenkins 3-point shot ability, it’s Van Tatenhove who continues to impress.

Although she was selected as a preseason First-team All-Conference selection, Van Tatenhove has flown slightly under the radar.

But her play has not.

In the last three games Van Tatenhove has scored 17, 17 and 24-points respectively. 

Her ability to score against anyone at anytime from anywhere on the court is a dangerous weapon to have.

When Xavier’s Tyeasha Moss face-guarded Jenkins for much of the game, it created opportunities for others to get open shots.

“Coach always tells us to drive to her side because they’re not going to get off Jessica,” Van Tatenhove explained. “We just stick to our game plan and it works.”

With that strategy, nine Bonnies recorded points, but only Van Tatenhove cracked double-digits.

Jenkins was rendered a non-factor by Xavier’s Tyesha Moss who smothered her the entire game. Jenkins only went 3-for-10 from the field for seven-points.

While Moss might have played shut down defense on Jenkins, she struggled on offense, shooting 4-for-16 en route to 10-points.

Van Tatenhove noted the extra crowd support in the stands. 

“I’m happy my family came to see this,” Van Tatenhove said. “But I’m also glad to see some of the supporters that have been here before and that have been here for a while and newcomers as well. It is always nice to have a crowd.”

The Bonnies, like a bulldozer, just keep on rolling through teams, seemingly with no end in sight.

Behind the Wolfpack: Bonnies fall short, leaving lasting mark

[Juan Fernandez and the rest of the Temple Owls proved to be too much for St. Bonaventure, leaving the Reilly Center with a 76-70 triumph – Photo by Melissa Scott]

By Ryan Lazo, Co-editor in chief/feature columnist, @RMLazo13

The game was there for the taking.

St. Bonaventure had stormed back from a 27-20 deficit with an 11-0 run to take a four-point lead in the waning minutes of the opening half. A quick Temple run before halftime cut the lead to only one, 31-30.

But in the end the Owls (20-5, 9-2) were too much for the Bonnies (13-10, 6-5) to handle in a 76-70 loss Wednesday night at the Reilly Center.

The Owls victory snapped an eight-game home winning streak for the Bonnies and extended Temple’s dominance over St. Bonaventure to 15-games.

It was a tale of two halves as the Bonnies limited the Owls big three of Juan Fernandez, Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt, averaging a combined 47 points per game coming in, to only 5-of-15 shooting in the first half.

However, Temple coach Fran Dunphy knew Moore would turn it around.

“I know his mentality toward the game and I knew he would get into rhythm,” Dunphy said of Moore’s poor first half.

The big three would end the game shooting 14-of-31 for 52-points, more than three-quarters of Temple’s points.

But this game was not all Temple. 

The Bonnies were in this game throughout and were seemingly lifted by the play of junior Eric Mosley.

Whenever the Owls would go on a run, it was Mosley who extinguished the flames. 

Down 16-11, it was Mosley’s two 3-pointers that gave St. Bonaventure the lead.

Then, with Temple threatening to break the game open on two different occasions, it was Mosley with two shifty drives to the basket while drawing the foul. 

Both times Mosley pulled the Bonnies to within two.

“I just worked the inside out with Andrew and took what the defense gave me,” Mosley said of his 18 point effort.

Nicholson also did his best to bring the Bonnies back, recording 12 of his team-high 19 points in the second half on 8-of-15 shooting including 2-for-2 from 3-point range.

Unfortunately a 14-point second half deficit was too much for the Bonnies to overcome, but one must put this loss in perspective. 

The Bonnies lost to Temple on the road by an 83-55 margin last season and 73-55 the previous season. This same Owls team beat Duke earlier this season and defeated Xavier over the weekend.

They received 122 votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, leaving them just shy of cracking the Top 25.

Yet in the waning minute of the game, the Bonnies still had a chance for another memorable finish last seen with a J.R. Bremmer 3-pointer to beat Temple.

The fact did not escape Dunphy’s mind.

“They’re a really good basketball team,” Dunphy said of the Bonnies. “They will be a force to be reckoned with as we get into the conference tournament.”

With five games remaining, the Bonnies are fighting for seeding in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.

Once there, they have the talent to succeed.

Column: Jenkins sinks the Colonials

[Jessica Jenkins drains one of eight three-pointers on the day en route to a career-high 32-points – Photo by Melissa Scott]

By Joseph Phelan, Staff Writer, @jphelan13

Following a 32-point outburst from his senior guard in a 80-69 win over George Washington at the Reilly Center, Bonnies coach Jim Crowley spoke his mind to the media.

“She is the player of the year in the conference,” Crowley said emphatically of Jessica Jenkins.

St. Bonaventure (22-2, 9-0) was too much for the undermanned Colonials (10-12, 3-5) who had only six active players. However, even with a full squad available, they may not have been able to stop the dead-eye shooting of Jenkins.

Jenkins had a wonderful non-conference season averaging 14.2 points per game, but has brought her game to a new level during the Atlantic 10 slate.

She is averaging 17.8 points per game, including two 20-point performances, three games in which she has hit at least eight three’s and today’s career-high 32-point shooting exhibition.

George Washington coach Mike Bozeman noted that Jenkins is not just hitting open jumpers either.

“It’s one thing to try to stop a spot-up shooter, but she can shoot under duress,” he explained. “She shoots with a hand up and she has a quick release.” 

It’s not by accident that Jenkins has mastered her craft. She works everyday on her shooting. She’s the first on the court and the last to leave it.

But Jenkins was modest following her career day.

“I missed some open looks,” Jenkins said with a smile. “I had an alright day.” 

Apparently shooting 8-for-15 from beyond the arc is an alright day for a player whose 314 career three-pointers are more than any active player and tied for 24th all-time in NCAA history. 

However, three-point shooting is not the only thing that makes Jenkins stand out. She plays tough defense, primarily on the opponent’s best player, makes good decisions and averages roughly 35 minutes per game.

“There is nobody doing more and that is no disrespect to any other player,” said Crowley.

But Jenkins did receive some key help in a game the Bonnies were not at their best. 

They surrendered 69-points, the highest any opponent has scored this season. The Colonials Tiana Myers also dropped in 27-points, the highest individual output by an opponent this season.

Senior forward Jennie Ashton made her presence felt, recording four offensive rebounds while sophomore guard Alaina Walker contributed 14-points on 6-of-8 shooting.

However, it was Jenkins who picked up the slack when it was needed the most. That’s what big-time players do: rise to the occasion when the situation calls for it.

Four years after falling under the radar, Jenkins is now the focus of every team’s defense, unable to be contained and possibly the front-runner for A-10 Player of the Year.