The Menlo College women's basketball team's stay as the No. 24-ranked NAIA squad in the nation may be short-lived after the Oaks dropped a 73-71 decision to visiting and No. 25 College of Saint Mary (Neb.) on Sunday in Atherton.
Menlo (10-1) controlled a four-point edge (71-67) with 1:02 remaining, but a Theresa Elworth 3-pointer, followed by an Elworth steal, a foul against her followed by two free throws put the Flames (9-4) on top for good.
Down 72-71, the Oaks had two final looks at a potential winner, but both Jenna Marinaro and Jolise Limcaco came up short in their last shot attempts to seal Menlo's fate as the Oaks suffered their first loss of the 2012-13 season.
Elworth's clutch display in the waning moments helped net her a game-high 29 points.
Marinaro, who finished with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, drove the lane with 15 seconds left and the Oaks trailing 72-71. The San Mateo native's layup attempt went begging, leading to a rebound by Saint Mary's Karyn Bixler, who was promptly fouled with 11.5 ticks to go.
Bixler came up empty on both free-throw attempts, setting the stage for one last opportunity for a possible Menlo victory. Limcaco had the ball in her hands with a chance to win it, but her jumper from 15 feet rimmed out to cap off the thrilling affair. The 5-foot-6 guard finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, and a game-high five assists.
The final dramatics wrapped up what was a captivating second stanza of basketball inside Haynes-Prim Pavilion. From 12:19 on, the score stayed within five points or less, and with 6:35 left until the final buzzer, the score stayed within three points or less.
The Oaks trailed by as many as eight in the second period, before sophomore Laurel Donnenwirth deadlocked the score at 57 with 5:56 remaining. With Menlo down 57-54, the Sacramento native connected from under the basket, and was fouled to set up the three-point play, which she converted. Donnenwirth ended with 15 points, but it was the effort of senior forward Lauren Adamek who kept the Oaks right in the thick of the things, with a team high 26 points, 16 in the second half.
With the tilt squared away at 67-67, Menlo rolled off the next four points on a basket by Donnenwirth, and a pair of Limcaco free throws, but ultimately Elworth got the better of Menlo with her impressive string of five straight points to put the Flames ahead for good.
The Oaks next will head to Colorado for a brief two-game swing. Menlo will contend with NCAA D-II UC Colorado Springs on Tuesday before tangling with Johnson & Wales University on Wednesday.