EUREKA, Ill. -- The Eureka College women's basketball team used a 60-22 surge midway through Tuesday night's regular-season opener at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena, turning an early deficit into an 86-69 non-conference rout of Knox. Senior forward Michaela Balducci (Eureka, Ill./Eureka H.S.) paced the Red Devils with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
After falling behind 14-7 in the first quarter, Eureka closed the frame on a 13-4 burst, culminating with its first lead of the game when senior guard Luci Weis (Bloomington, Ill./Bloomington H.S.) beat the horn with a 3-pointer for a 20-18 edge.
Another triple from Weis just 80 seconds into the second quarter broke a 20-20 tie and the hosts wouldn't trail again. The Eureka advantage swelled to double digits for the first time on two foul shots from Balducci for a 39-28 lead with 2:19 remaining in the half. The Red Devils claimed their largest cushion of the first 20 minutes when freshman Abigail Hilton (Moweaqua, Ill./Central A&M) scored inside for a 45-30 lead in the final minute.
Eureka opened the second half with a 9-0 run, highlighted by six points from Balducci and a 3-pointer from junior guard Hayley Reneau (Washington, Ill./Washington H.S./Illinois Central). The advantage ballooned to as many as 31 points at the 4:16 mark of the third quarter on a 3-pointer from freshman guard Ashley Harfst (Pontiac, Ill./Pontiac H.S.).
Ten different Red Devils scored Tuesday and 13 players logged at least two minutes. Reneau and Weis shared the team scoring lead with 15 points, while Hilton added 14 points off the bench in her collegiate debut. Sophomore forward Lexi Dooley (Sutter, Ill./Warsaw H.S.) also chipped in with 10 boards in just 16 minutes of action.
Freshman guard Kennedy Dura (Brimfield, Ill./Brimfield H.S.) also made her collegiate debut Tuesday, distributing a game-high eight assists. Eureka had 23 assists in the victory, its highest team total since handing out 29 helpers in a 94-53 triumph over Blackburn on Jan. 17, 2014.
Junior guard Kerrigan Dura (Brimfield, Ill./Brimfield H.S.) turned in a balanced effort with seven points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Eureka controlled the boards, outrebounding the Prairie Fire 60-45. The Red Devils also turned 25 offensive rebounds into a 24-12 cushion in second-chance points.
Karlie Thorn scored 17 points to lead all scorers, one of four Knox players to finish in double figures. KC sputtered to a 16-for-26 effort from the free throw line.
Eureka has now won five of its last six season openers. Additionally, it's the Red Devils' first victory in a home opener over an NCAA Division III opponent since drubbing Concordia (Ill.), 71-50, on Nov. 24, 2012. Eureka has also claimed five of the last six decisions in the series with Knox and leads the head-to-head series 26-11 since 1983.The Red Devils will look to move to 2-0 for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign when they host USCAA Robert Morris-Peoria this Saturday morning at 12 a.m. The contest against the Eagles marks EC's second annual Midnight Madness event at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena.