Ephs eliminate Cardinals in NESCAC quarters

Women’s basketball (21-4, 9-1 in the NESCAC) hosted Wesleyan in the quarterfinal round of the NESCAC tournament last Saturday. Entering the game, the Ephs were ranked No. 20 in Div. III and had the third seed in the tournament. They made quick work of the sixth-seeded Cardinals, shooting an impressive 48.1 percent from the field and stringing together devastating scoring streaks to notch the comfortable 72-43 victory. Just three days prior, in their regular-season finale at home against Trinity, the women continued their streak of stellar play, shaking off a slow start to down the Bantams 74-42.

In Saturday’s contest, the women opened with tough defense, limiting Wesleyan to a meager 10 points in the first half. Their offense was no less spectacular, as the Ephs shot an incredible 78 percent from distance in the period. Although it was a majestic half for the Ephs, it got off to a slow start, with almost 90 seconds passing before co-captain Danny Rainer ’13 found co-captain Claire Baecher ’13 at the three-point line for the game’s first bucket.

But then Williams’ most prolific shooters began to heat up, starting with a long ball from Ellen Cook ’15. Grace Rehnquist ’13 added a three of her own, and Baecher chipped in with yet another shot from range, as well as a nice spinning lay-up in the paint. The Cardinals called for a time-out, hoping to slow down the Ephs’ sharpshooting.

However, the women could not be stopped. Jennie Harding ’13 found Kellie Macdonald ’15 for a nice floater; just a possession later, Rehnquist assisted Macdonald with a sweet lobbed ball, and the Ephs were up 23-8. With the half winding down, Wesleyan was held without a field goal for over 10 minutes, and when Rehnquist knocked down another three. assisted by MaryKate O’Brien ’16, the Williams lead swelled to 26. The women entered the locker room up 34-10.

Wesleyan began the second period with renewed energy, but Williams put the kibosh on any attempt at a comeback with a deflating 15-0 run that awarded them a sizeable 37-point lead and quieted any doubts of victory. The game’s final minutes passed without much commotion. The fanfare began only once the final buzzer had sounded, solidifying the Ephs’ resounding 72-43 victory, as Head Coach Pat Manning was honored for her milestone 400th career win, leaving her unmatched in the career wins department by any Williams basketball coach in history.

In the Ephs’ fifth straight win, Baecher led the way with 26 points; the women more than quadrupled the Cardinals’ assist count, shot a remarkable 13-19 from downtown and held the Cardinals to lowly 27.8-percent  shooting.

“We emphasize defense,” Manning said. “And some great defensive stops resulted in easy buckets on the other end tonight.”

Early in last Wednesday’s regular season finale at home against Trinity, the women’s offense didn’t display the same ferocity they’d shown in their previous win against rival Amherst on Feb. 10. But the Ephs kept moving the ball and finding looks, and soon the points started piling up. Baecher commenced the scoring with a nice put-back and Macdonald hit a mid-range jumper. About eight minutes into the half, with the game still close, Baecher slashed her way into the paint and converted a three-point-play as she absorbed contact from Trinity’s Taylor Murtaugh. The bucket marked Baecher’s ascension into an elite Williams women’s basketball circle, as she became only the 14th female player in history to score 1000 points in a Williams collegiate career. Baecher’s milestone rallied her teammates, and the Ephs broke off on an 18-point run in the following minutes. Cook led the charge, contributing a season-high 19 points on the game. After Rehnquist and Cook had each hit another three, the women found themselves up 45-24 with the half coming to a close.

Williams set the second stanza in motion with a 14-0 run that all but decided the game. With 15 minutes to go, both sides were subbing out their starting lineups. Williams held Trinity to just 18 points in the period, and the game’s outcome was never once in doubt.

“[Cook] really came through for us tonight,” Manning said. “She couldn’t find her groove against Amherst, so it was nice to see her clicking again.”

In the NESCAC semifinal, the women will take on Middlebury, who won its quarterfinal against Bates last Saturday 75-64. The game will be played in Chandler on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., immediately after the tournament’s first semifinal between Amherst and eighth-seeded Bowdoin, who upset second-seeded Tufts last week.

“There was some funky seeding this year,” Manning said. “But we’re hoping to keep up the strong play all the way through the finals. Right now, I feel like everyone’s running on all cylinders.”