Published February 09. 2014 4:00AM
New London — After a relatively smooth ride for the last month, Mitchell College has encountered a speed bump lately.
First, the Mariners suffered their worst New England Collegiate Conference loss of the season in a women's basketball showdown with first-place Regis College on Thursday. The ugly result - 72-44 - ended a 10-game winning streak.
In that loss, leading scorer Savannah Boyle was sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury.
More adversity arrived on Saturday when the Mariners saw talented freshman Caycee Williams sit for an extended period because of foul trouble against NECC foe Bay Path. The Mariners responded like title contenders, riding a balanced attack to a 74-63 victory on Senior Day at the Yarnall Athletic Center.
"We had a little bit more fight," Mitchell coach MaryLynn Skarzenski said. "We definitely had a good practice (Friday). They're hungry for it. ... They want to fight to get back to where we were and get Regis again. Hopefully, we'll get them in the championship."
Mitchell (13-8, 13-2) finishes the regular season with three straight road games, including a rematch with Regis (17-4, 14-0) on Feb. 19.
With all but seniors Kate Mulloy, Gloria Charles and Luany Gotay underclassmen, the Mariners are a relatively young team.
They've grown into a cohesive unit under Skarzenski, a first-year coach. She's turned around the program that suffered through two straight losing seasons, including 7-18 overall last year.
Williams, one of the top newcomers in the NECC, has given the Mariners a valuable post presence. She finished with 13 points and a team-high 13 rebounds in just 19 minutes on Saturday.
Freshman Jessica Shepherd showed off her long-range shooting touch, sinking five 3-pointers on the way to 17 points, and Mulloy also had 17. Sophomore Amanda Garcia (12 points, nine rebounds) also made a big contribution.
Up until Thursday, the Mariners hadn't lost in a month.
"We've had a lot of good freshmen come in," Mulloy said. "We gained a lot of good chemistry this year. We have really good post players. That really helps. As far as last year, we didn't have much of that."
The Mariners relied on their depth when Williams headed to the bench with four fouls with over 14 minutes left. Four different players scored during a 9-1 run that turned a 61-54 lead into a 70-55 advantage. Sophomore Toshina Jessamy's 3-pointer capped the decisive spurt.
"It's definitely a good sign," Skarzenski said of the run without Williams. "Caycee brings a different dynamic to the team. And, in this conference, she's got such good size. We have a lot of kids that can play and score.
"Our big thing right now, we're preaching that we have to do it with our defense first and we got out in transition, which is good for us."
Mitchell limited Bay Path (7-15, 6-9) to just 37 percent shooting - only eight field goals in the second half - and forced 20 turnovers. The Mariners also played unselfish basketball, assisting 23 of 30 field goals. Gotay had 10 assists.
Mitchell will likely host a first round NECC game later this month.
Despite Thursday's setback, the Mariners haven't given up hope of beating Regis.
"It definitely is our mindset," Skarzenski said. "We want to win the NECC championship."