Women’s basketball upsets White Mules in NESCAC tourney

Never before had this group of seniors won a basketball game in Maine. Never before had they made the overnight five-hour trek and beaten the likes of Bates, Colby or Bowdoin. Until now.

Led by their seniors and some tenacious defense, the Ephs exorcised the demons of Maine and defeated Colby 59-56 in the first round of the NESCAC tournament. The team’s record now stands at 18-7 and 6-3 in the NESCAC.

“It was great for our seniors to come up here and win for the first time,” Head Coach Pat Manning said. “Our guard play, our forwards all contributed, and it was a good win.”

“Our first win in Maine could not have come at a better time,” Melissa Skeffington ’03 said. “We knew that we had the capacity to beat them, especially after playing them earlier in the season.”

When the Ephs play their best defense, they can compete with the best. Unfortunately for Colby, they played the Ephs on a night in which Williams brought their A-game defense, which totaled 13 steals and forced 24 turnovers. Colby’s top player, Sarah Walsh, was held to only 12 points on six shot attempts, as Sarah Dickens ’04, Amy Geant ’03 and Abi Jackson ’03 frustrated her and made it difficult to get into any offensive flow.

“Inside, our post defense was very solid,” Manning said. “It was very difficult for them to get off good shots inside.”

The Ephs also played strong on the perimeter, hounding Colby’s guards all day. They rattled Bianca Belcher, the point guard for the White Mules, as she turned the ball over 11 times. The Ephs’ Kerri McMahon ’05 was responsible for causing most of the White Mule’s turnovers, as she finished with five steals.

But despite handling the ball as if it were soaked in butter, Belcher had the hot-hand shooting the ball and led her team with 15 points. She had a good look in the final moments on a potential game-tying 3-pointer, but her shot rimmed out. The Ephs had an 11-point lead late in the game, but Colby chipped away in the waning minutes.

“We felt as though we let that first game slip away and were determined not to have it happen again,” Skeffington said. “Belcher got a good look at a three right at the buzzer, but missed.  We were so excited but so relieved at the same time.  It felt so good to get out of that gym with a win and be able to continue our season.”

The duo of Skeffington and Kate Stumpo ’03 came up huge, as they led the Ephs with 15 points apiece. They complemented each other well, as Skeffington drained three 3-pointers while Stumpo made a living at the foul-line (11-of-14). Stumpo also finished the night having grabbed nine rebounds as well.

McMahon had another solid all-around game, scoring 11 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists to go along with her five steals. Dickens added eight points down in the paint.

Unfortunately, the one bad thing about winning in Maine is that the Ephs have to go back again next weekend for the NESCAC Final Four, which will be hosted by top-seeded Bowdoin. It will mark the third consecutive weekend that the team will have to spend the weekend in Maine.

Last time the Ephs traveled to Maine to face the Polar Bears, Williams was riding a 9-game win streak. Bowdoin brought their top defensive game and forced the Ephs to shoot a miserable 23 percent. Although at one point the Ephs led by seven, they eventually lost the game 60-45.

“We need to step it up for next weekend against Bowdoin and put together 40 minutes of solid, consistent basketball,” Skeffington said. “This team can definitely do it though, because we have the ability and the desire. We’re very excited and have a lot of confidence right now.”

“Our team is really rolling now. We believe in each other, we’re determined and we’re hungry,” Colleen Hession ’06 said. “We know that Bowdoin is a tough opponent and we respect them. Our next game is going to be a battle.”

Bowdoin is fresh off a 88-53 dismantling of bottom-seed Trinity in the quarterfinals. But the score was not so unbalanced in the first half, as Bowdoin at most led by 10. Kristi Royer was a brilliant and at times unstoppable force in the paint for the Polar Bears as she racked up 17 points and seven boards in the first half alone. But the Bantams went on a 19-8 run and eventually took the lead on a jump-shot by Michelle McCaffrey with 1:30 remaining in the half. Bowdoin did not remain down for long as Courtney Trotta hit back-to-back treys to close out the first half and the Polar Bears went to the locker room with a meek three point advantage, 40-37.

What happened in the second half was nothing short of incredible. After the Bantams pulled within run – on another jumper by McCaffrey – the Polar Bears went on an amazing 42-4 run that successfully put the Bantams away for good. All in all, the Polar Bears outscored the Bantams 48-16 in the second half to secure the 100th win for Head Coach Stefanie Pemper who became the ninth-fastest coach in Div. III history to reach the milestone, as it took her only 129 games.

During the run, Polar Bear guard Lora Trenkle scored all 17 of her points and went an impressive 6-of-8 from the field. Royer finished one of the most dominating performances of her career with 25 points, nine rebounds and five steals.