Women’s basketball advances to Sweet 16 in NCAA tourney

Women’s basketball (24-5, 9-1 in the NESCAC) competed in the first two rounds of the Div. III NCAA tournament last weekend, hosted by the University of Rochester. On Friday, the women took on Scranton and won handily; posting an impressive 20-point victory, 79-59. On Saturday, the women defeated host Rochester, 68-60. The win over Rochester secured the women’s spot in the Sweet 16.

The first half of Saturday’s game opened with a lot of back-and-forth between the teams, with neither team pulling away significantly. Rochester was the first to appear on the board, posting two points less than a minute into the period. However co-captain Claire Baecher ’13, who received the honor of being named NESCAC Player of the Year earlier in the week, responded quickly with a three for the Ephs. The period progressed with the teams trading points, although the Ephs never gained an advantage. Another three from Baecher with 5:36 remaining to play in the period brought the Ephs even with the Yellowjackets at 23-23 for the first time in the half. Despite the two foul shots made by co-captain Danny Rainer ’13, the women entered the break down 30-28.

Jennie Harding ’13 made the first basket of the second period, hitting a three to bring the Ephs up by one. Two consecutive baskets by Kellie MacDonald ’15 and a layup by Baecher opened up the Ephs lead at 37-30. The women did not relinquish their hard-fought lead for the remainder of the game. A stream of defensive rebounds by Harding, Rainer and Ellen Cook ’15 prevented the Yellowjackets from scoring until seven minutes into the half. Although Rochester fought back within two of Williams, a three-pointer from Grace Rehnquist ’13 and consistent offensive contributions from both Baecher and Rainer helped Williams pull off the upset win, 68-60, on Saturday.

Baecher posted a team-high 22 points and nine rebounds, while Rainer shot for 58.3% from the field for 18 points and grabbed nine boards in the team’s second-round effort.

Last Friday, the women took on and defeated Scranton in the first round of the Div. III NCAA tournament. Three minutes into the first half saw the women down by five until Rainer put them on the board with a lay-in. However, the Ephs struggled to gain a lead over the Royals, as the women’s stream of missed shots resulted in a 10-point deficit with 8:41 to play in the half. Two free throws by Macdonald got the Ephs scoring again, and her offensive efforts as well as those by Harding, Baecher and Cook put the Ephs up 34-28 when the buzzer went for the half. The women did not surrender their lead again for the remainder of the game.

Baecher opened the second half with a jump shot, and eight consecutive points from Cook asserted the Ephs’ dominance on the court. Although Scranton added points to its score, the women maintained their offensive onslaught to win the game by 20 at 79-59. At the end of the night, Baecher had posted 23 points to lead the team, as well as team highs in rebounds with 14 and blocks with four. Cook followed with 19 points on the night.

With their two wins, the women advance to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in the school’s history and have been selected to host the third round matches this weekend, to the team’s excitement. Williams, ranked No. 15, will take on Ithaca, No. 21, this Friday in Chandler gymnasium at 8 p.m. The winner of the game will take on the winner of the Emory-Whitman matchup on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Chandler.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to play in Chandler this weekend,” Head Coach Pat Manning said. “This is a very exciting time for our team. We are playing our best basketball of the season and the seniors are leading the way. We would love to play before a packed house.”