Ephs stun Jeffs with 20-point home victory

Women’s basketball (19-4, 8-1 in the NESCAC) took a second shot at archrival Amherst last weekend. The two squads first met this season on Jan. 23, when the Jeffs narrowly edged out the Ephs 54-48. But when No. 3 Amherst entered Chandler Gym on Sunday, it was Senior Night, and the No. 25 Williams squad was fired up and ready to win. The women exploded out of the gate, combining lights-out shooting with stellar defense to earn a big first-half lead. The Ephs maintained this high level of play, ultimately stunning Amherst with a convincing 71-51 victory. The victory terminated Williams’ 11-game losing streak against Amherst and propeled the women to a three-way tie with Amherst and Tufts for the NESCAC regular season title, as well as a share in the Little Three crown.

Kellie Macdonald ’15 kicked off the scoring for the women, pounding her way inside for the game’s opening bucket. But it was co-captain Claire Baecher ’13 whose offensive production ignited her squad in the opening minutes, as she scored six of the team’s next eight points. Time and again, Jennie Harding ’13 provided perfectly timed passes to Baecher as she curled around off-ball screens and cut toward the basket. On the far end of the court, Williams hustled to contest Amherst’s perimeter passing, off-ball motion and outside shooting. Amherst’s guards quickly became frustrated at the women’s energetic defense. The Jeffs didn’t score until around three minutes into the game.

With around 10 minutes to play in the first half, Williams further turned up the heat. Harding continued to give the Amherst defensive headaches, splitting defenders and finishing gracefully at the rim. On the subsequent Eph possession, Baecher netted a shot from downtown to extend the lead and build Williams’ momentum. Rattled, the Amherst offense fought to find a good look on their next trip up court, eventually settling for a contested three, which Baecher promptly swatted to the floor. Harding grabbed the rebound; pushing the break, she found Grace Rehnquist ’13 trailing from behind. Rehnquist stepped up and drilled a three of her own, sparking a thunderous cheer from the stands.

The Jeffs found themselves in a deep hole, but some sharpshooting from their lead scorer Marcia Voigt, who notched 19 on the night, trimmed the Ephs’ lead to 10 points. Again, though, the women refused to falter, this time racking up 14 unanswered points. The women entered the locker room up 39-19, having played one of their best halves of the entire year.

The Jeffs regained their composure in the second half, as the two sides played much more even basketball. Co-captain Danny Rainer ’13 kick-started the Ephs’ scoring this time, hitting one shot and two lay-ins to notch the first six points of the period for Williams. The Jeffs struggled unsuccessfully to get back into the game, never coming closer than 18 points. When the buzzer sounded, the women were up by 20 points, and for the first time in five years, they defeated Amherst.

Fittingly, the squad’s seniors–Baecher, Harding, Rainer, Rehnquist, Jen Borderud ’13 and Stephanie Browne ’13–were phenomenal on their honorary night, netting an incredible 67 of the Ephs’ 71 points. Baecher posted a season-high 30 points to complement eight rebounds and two blocks, while Rainer had 18 of her own – also a season-high – and Harding added 12. Baecher received NESCAC and NEWBA player of the week honors for her dominant performance. The Ephs scored just 48 points in their first game against Amherst this season. Last weekend, they had 39 points in the first period alone. The Ephs also outshot the Jeffs from the field, 45.7 percent to 27.1 percent.

“It was a perfect senior day,” Head Coach Pat Manning said. “I was really proud of my team and our first win over Amherst since 2008. Claire Baecher was named NESCAC and NEWBA player of the week. I thought the seniors played extremely well. I just thought it was great execution on both ends of the floor and they played with amazing intensity.”

Though Williams was scheduled to play Trinity on Saturday, the game was rescheduled due to the snowstorm. The women hope to build on their win in a 7 p.m. season finale at home against Trinity tonight. Williams will be playing for a share of the NESCAC title.