Women’s basketball (21-6, 6-3 in the NESCAC) lost to Muhlenberg 64-63 in the first round of the NCAA Div. III tournament on Saturday. The heartbreaking loss came on the heels of last weekend’s nail-biting loss to Amherst in the NESCAC semifinals.
The women trailed soon after the tip-off, going down 4-0 against Muhlenberg despite getting four shots from the floor in the opening minute. Williams remained down until Jennie Harding ’13 nailed a three-pointer at 17:08 and Grace Rehnquist ’13 hit a jumper to tie the score at nine. The Ephs and Mules continued to trade baskets, albeit with the Mules always maintaining a slight lead. Despite trailing, Williams continued to battle, shooting 33.3 percent in the first half. A 9-5 run by Muhlenberg left Williams down 31-27 heading into halftime.
The women stepped up their game at the start of the second half, quickly tying up the game. Both teams continued to battle for the lead, with neither able to pull ahead. The Ephs got their first lead of the game with 9:37 left to play when Claire Baecher ’13 put away a lay-up and sank a free throw. Baecher’s timely points put the Ephs up 45-44, but the two teams continued to trade the lead.
Tied at 61 with a minute and a half left to play, Jennie Harding ’13 connected to a wide-open Baecher, who hit a short jumper in the paint to put the Ephs up 63-61. With 15.1 seconds left to play and a narrow lead, the Ephs tried to slow the advancing Mules and use up the remaining time. Muhlenberg attempted to play the ball up court, but the women committed two fouls to slow their offense.
The Ephs knocked the ball out of bounds with just three seconds left to play. Muhlenburg’s Kelly McKeon then inbounded the ball to Alexandra Chilli, who hit a three-pointer from the right side that fell at the buzzer to give the Mules a last-second 64-63 win.
“We just didn’t expect that play to happen,” said tri-captain Taylor Shea ’11. “Once they got the ball out of bounds, we assumed that they wouldn’t really do much in the time they had left. However, they got it to Chilli in the corner a few feet away so she was able to score.”
Baecher and tri-captain Chessie Jackson ’11 led the Ephs’ offense, scoring 21 and 14 points, respectively. Harding, Jill Greenberg ’12 and Shea each contributed eight points to the women’s effort.
Williams will graduate three seniors: tri-captains Shea, Jackson and Maddie King ’11. The game marked the third time the three women have advanced to the NCAA tournament. The women fell in the Sweet Sixteen in both 2010 and 2009. King finished her career with 67 games played and 86 points. Shea will graduate with 99 games played and 971 career points. Jackson, the women’s 2011 points leader, ended her career with 105 games played and a total of 1246 points. Jackson is the first Williams woman to score 1000 points since 2009.
“Chessie and Maddie were wonderful captains,” said Shea. “Chessie’s been a four-year starter, and she’s extremely talented. Maddie played just as much of a critical role.”
Williams finishes its season ranked 25th in Div. III women’s basketball. “I’m really proud of the team,” said Shea. “I know even though we lost we are still incredibly talented.”
With its strong core of returning players, including Baecher, Greenberg, Rehnquist, Harding and Danny Rainer ’13, the team will look to build on this year’s result next season.
“The team is in good hands,” said Shea. “We still have so much talent left on the team, and I hope that they go farther next year.”