RIO GRANDE — Of all the blocked shots that the University of Rio Grande recorded against Ohio Christian University on Saturday afternoon, the one belonging to Caitlyn Brisker proved to be the biggest.
The Oak Hill, Ohio freshman swatted away a would-be, game-tying shot by OCU’s Helena Limas as the final buzzer sounded, securing the RedStorm’s 68-66 win over the Trailblazers in women’s basketball action at the Newt Oliver Arena.
Rio Grande won for an eighth straight time, improving to 15-7 and completing a season sweep of the Blazers in the process.
Ohio Christian lost for a fourth straight time and for the ninth time in its last 12 outings, dropping to 7-9 for the season.
Rio Grande equaled an NAIA single-game high with 14 blocked shots, the most for the program in a single game since tallying 15 in a win over Carlow University on Feb. 21, 2015.
Brisker’s victory-clinching denial became a necessity after the RedStorm — who were nursing their two-point advantage — committed a shot clock violation with 25.9 seconds remaining, giving possession back to the Trailblazers.
Sophomore Lexi Woods (Waverly, OH) appeared to save Rio on OCU’s ensuing possession by briefly coming up with a steal in the closing seconds, but the ball got away from Woods and rolled out of bounds to give the Trailblazers one last chance with 5.9 seconds left.
Limas inbounded the ball to teammate Darcy Mitchell and then made a great catch of Mitchell’s errant return pass before driving the baseline toward the bucket. As she let go of the shot which would’ve sent the game to overtime, Brisker came up with a clean block as time expired to close out the RedStorm’s hard-fought victory.
Rio Grande jumped to an eight-point first quarter lead, but OCU rallied to take a six-point cushion of its own in the second period before settling on a 38-34 halftime advantage.
The RedStorm quickly erased the deficit, though, with a 15-4 run to begin the second half and took their largest lead of the day, 49-40, after a three-point goal by junior Avery Harper (Seaman, OH) with 4:44 left in the third period.
Undaunted, the Trailblazers refused to fold and methodically chipped away at the deficit before regaining the lead, 62-61, on a pair of free throws by Rachel Bolyard with 4:19 left in the game.
Rio regained the lead for good just under a minute later on a layup by sophomore Hailey Jordan (Columbus, OH) — the first two of six straight points by the RedStorm — but Limas hit a pair of free throws with 2:02 left and again with 1:23 remaining to make it 67-66.
Jordan hit one of two free throws with 1:07 left to give Rio a two-point advantage and set up the frantic finish.
Senior Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) led the winning effort for the RedStorm with 16 points and a game-high 10 assists, while Harper and Jordan netted 11 points apiece. Chambers and Jordan also had three steals each.
Woods and freshman Aleea Crites (Parkersburg, WV) led Rio with 10 rebounds each, while Crites also blocked a career-high six shots.
Rio Grande finished 28-for-62 from the floor (45.2%) and outrebounded the Trailblazers, 41-34.
Bolyard had a game-high 18 points to lead Ohio Christian, while Limas tossed in 16 of her own.
Rachel Gillum, who averaged just under 22 points and just over 17 rebounds per game entering the contest, had 11 points, 16 rebounds and five assists for the Trailblazers. However, she scored seven of her points at the foul line after going just 2-for-11 from the floor.
Mitchell added 10 points and two steals for OCU, which shot just 25.9 percent in the second half (7-for-27) after shooting just under 50 percent in the opening two quarters.
Weather permitting, Rio Grande is slated to return to action on Monday at Midway University. Tip time is set for 5:30 p.m.