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Falcons Re-Open Record Books, Thump Baptist Bible By 64
Junior Michele Schleich scored a career-high 18 points Thursday, one of a season-high five players to score in double-figures.

Clarks Summit, PA — Perhaps it has something to do with the phases of the moon.

For the second time in as many years, the Messiah women’s basketball team sniffed a program record on the first Thursday in January, this time handing Baptist Bible College an 88-24 defeat — the second-largest margin of victory in school history.

The win came just one point away from tying the record for largest margin of victory, as last season’s 98-33 win at Arcadia University narrowly remained as the rout standard.

Thursday’s victory also came a point away from tying the program’s record for fewest points allowed to an opponent in a single game, but try not to get carried away. That record was set in last year’s 79-23 win over Hood College, coming on Jan. 8, 2009.

“I’m not sure about any of that,” said Messiah head coach Mike Miller, when asked what his team liked about the first Thursday of the year. “All I know is, tonight we were good. We were really, really good. Are we better than Baptist Bible? Yes. But we’re not 60-some points better than they are. We were just a machine tonight.”

Messiah’s robotic precision was evident all over the stat sheet, as the Falcons made a season-high 33 baskets, converted on a season-high 60 percent of its field goal tries, went a perfect 18 for 18 from the free throw line and forced the Defenders into a season-high 34 turnovers, all while allowing just 24 points — the second-lowest amount in the history of the program.

“We wanted to focus on not giving up open shots tonight, and we challenged them to be great in transition defense,” said assistant coach Larry Sassaman. “Well, we did a really good job with that, and then some.”

Incredibly, Baptist Bible (2-6) hung with Messiah (11-1) early in the contest, despite the Falcons connecting on their first five shots from the field. The visitors possessed just an 11-6 lead four and a half minutes in, and at the midway point of the first half, it was only an 18-8 spread.

That’s when Messiah picked up its level of play on both ends, however, closing the final 9:47 on a 29-4 run, heading into the locker room with a 47-12 lead. Senior Julie Henninger, junior Michele Schleich and freshman Nicky Hess all had 11 points at the break, as Miller’s group connected on nine of its final 15 shots from the floor.

Baptist Bible was held to just six first-half baskets, with just two coming in the final 10 and a half minutes.

“There was a freshness about us tonight that has not been there for awhile,” Miller said. “It was exciting. There wasn’t a player that played poorly, and everyone made the extra pass. We got wide open looks because we were very unselfish. We were strong with the ball and we made great decisions.

“We’ve been challenging our girls in practice and we challenged them tonight at halftime,” he continued. “We did not want to have an average second half in a blowout game. We wanted to play through the finish line.”

Messiah’s second 20 minutes were anything but average.

A 13-2 run opened the period, and the Falcons were up by 46. Behind a 15 of 23 second-half shooting performance (65.2 percent), the lead gradually ballooned to 66 points (88-22 with 1:42 to go), but a steal and made jumper from Baptist Bible’s Devon McHale finalized the scoring with 15 seconds to play.

It also kept Messiah two points away from re-setting a ridiculous program record.

McHale’s steal was one of eight on the evening for the Defenders, as Messiah’s game was not completely without fault: The Falcons turned the ball over 17 times, including 10 giveaways in the second half.

“Give credit to their team,” Miller said. “They made us play hard until the end by the way they continued to play hard, the way they kept encouraging themselves. They tried to play the right way. I can’t stress how much better they are than what the score indicated. People might look at the score and think it was a joke game, but we didn’t take it that way, and I know they didn’t take it that way. They want to play us next year. They are serious about becoming a good program. And, when we didn’t do the right thing, they made us pay.”

Schleich tallied a career-high 18 points in the win, making eight of 11 shots from the floor. Freshman Dori Gyori added 12 points and a game-high nine rebounds, while Henninger scored 13 to go with four assists. Hess didn’t score in the second period (finishing with 11 points), but didn’t miss a shot, going three for three from the field and two of two from the line. Freshman Megan Shipe scored a career-high 10 points, also going a perfect two for two from the floor and four for four from the charity stripe. Sophomore Anna Walker finished with a career-high six assists in 16 minutes of work.

The 64-point blasting was Messiah’s ninth win by 45 points or more in the last five years. Coupled with last year’s 65-point win over Arcadia, the recent blowouts supplanted the Falcons’ 104-45 win over Eastern University on Nov. 18, 2000 as the largest margin of victory in program history.

Messiah will now take just one day to prepare for the beginning of Commonwealth Conference play, as the Falcons will host a talented Widener University team Saturday. The contest will be Messiah’s first home game in nearly a month. Tip-off is slated for 2 p.m.