EUREKA, Ill. -- The Eureka College women's basketball team earned its first NCAA Tournament bid in program history Saturday, defeating Greenville 82-74 for the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament championship at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena.
Eureka (20-7) will receive the SLIAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Red Devils' first national tournament appearance in program history. The 2016-17 women's basketball team joins the 2002 EC softball team as the only teams in school history to qualify for an NCAA Tournament.
Additionally, Saturday's tournament title was Eureka's first in any sport in 11 seasons as a member of the SLIAC. The Red Devils are the 15th team in conference history to sweep the regular season and tournament championships.
Junior guard Kerrigan Dura (Edwards, Ill./Brimfield H.S.) was named the SLIAC Tournament Most Valuable Player. Junior Hayley Reneau (Washington, Ill./Washington H.S./Illinois Central) was also named to the SLIAC All-Tournament Team.
Saturday's win was Eureka's 20th of the season, giving the Red Devils their fourth 20-win season in program history.
Eureka took advantage of a quick start Saturday, building an early nine-point lead when Dura's layup doubled up the Panthers, 18-9, with 2:39 left in the first quarter. GC recovered to close the frame on a 9-5 run and trailed 23-18 after 10 minutes.
The Panthers took control of the contest in the second quarter, scoring 13 consecutive points as part of a 15-0 run to lead the Red Devils, 31-23. EC didn't score in the period for nearly seven minutes and finally ended the drought when Reneau's layup pulled the hosts within 31-25 with 3:28 left in the half. The Greenville lead at halftime was 39-35.
The Red Devils ultimately regained the lead when Dura's 3-pointer pushed EC to a 46-45 cushion with 4:25 left in the third quarter. The two teams would trade the lead four more times in the frame. Eureka scored five consecutive points on field goals from senior Luci Weis (Bloomington, Ill./Normal Community H.S.) and freshman Ashley Harfst (Saunemin, Ill./Pontiac H.S.) for a 54-53 lead.
Eureka led the entirety of the final period. The Panthers stayed within a single point as late as the 9:15 mark, but the Red Devils used a 12-2 burst to take their largest lead, 68-57, with 6:48 to play. The visitors punched right back with an 8-1 run of their own to get back within two, 69-67, but Weis answered with a layup and a 3-point play to push the EC lead back to three possessions, 74-67.
Protecting the lead in the final minutes, Eureka made eight of its last nine free-throw attempts in the final 1:26 to secure its trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Dura scored a game-high 18 points and distributed five assists. Reneau tallied 16 points. Sophomore Lexi Dooley (Sutter, Ill./Warsaw H.S.) scored 12 points and pulled down a game-high nine rebounds, while Weis poured in 15 off the bench and senior Michaela Balducci (Eureka, Ill./Eureka H.S.) scored 10 points in their final games at the Reagan Athletic Complex.
Claire Schmitt led GC with 16 points. The Panthers ended their season with an 18-9 record, one win shy of their second consecutive NCAA Tournament trip.
Eureka will learn its NCAA Tournament first-round opponent on Monday afternoon. The selection show will stream live on NCAA.com at 1:30 p.m. CT.