Women’s hoops wins NESCAC nail-biter

MaryKate O’Brien ’16 scored in the second half to break the Ephs’ 31-31 tie against the Camels.
MaryKate O’Brien ’16 scored in the second half to break the Ephs’ 31-31 tie against the Camels.

Women’s basketball (20-5, 7-3 in the NESCAC) pulled off a dramatic 45-44 victory against Conn. College last Saturday to start postseason play. The win moves the Ephs into the semifinals of the NESCAC Championship with a match against defending conference champion Tufts next Saturday.

“Our defense really won that game for us,” Head Coach Pat Manning said. “People stepped up and made plays when they had to.”

After scoring on their first possession, the Ephs offense faltered as the Camels pulled away with an early 6-2 lead. Williams then took advantage of several turnovers by Conn. College to gain a small lead; however, the teams traded baskets for much of the first half.

With 10 minutes to go in the first half, the Camels began sinking three-pointers to try to gain separation from the Ephs. Kristin Fechtelkotter ’18 sank a pair of jump shots to keep the score close, and Oge Uwanaka ’16 brought some defensive intensity for the Ephs. As the half wore on the Camels expanded their lead, and by halftime the Ephs were in a 30-20 hole.

“We weren’t moving the ball well in the first half – we weren’t playing team basketball,” Manning said.

Katie Litman ’16 kicked off the second half with two layups to get the Ephs’ offense moving. From there, several bench players helped put the Ephs back in the lead. In the span of four minutes, Uwanaka and Devon Caveney ’17 combined for three steals and five points, and Lauren McCall ’17 and Mary Kate O’Brien ’16 added baskets to give Williams its first lead since midway through the first half.

“I really credit our bench with turning the tide of the game,” Manning said.

Williams continued to find success offensively, pulling away to a 43-36 lead with 5:29 left to play. The Camels responded with a 5-0 run over the next minute, making it a one-possession game heading into the final minutes.

While the Ephs struggled to add to their lead, Fechtelkotter came up with two huge blocks to stop the Camels from pulling ahead. With 2:35 to play, Caveney fought for a layup to put Williams up by four, but just 20 seconds later Conn. College drained a three-pointer to bring the score to 45-44 in favor of the home team.

In the final stretch, co-captain Ellen Cook ’15 and Uwanaka both blocked shots in the paint to keep the Ephs’  lead. After a missed free throw for the Ephs, the Camels got one more possession, calling a timeout with five seconds left.

After the timeout, the Ephs played aggressive defense to guard against the  in-bounds pass and took away the Camels’ main target. After the ball was brought into play, Amanni Fernandez ’18 stripped it away and sent it flying toward Cook, who dribbled the clock out to cement the Ephs’ spot in the NESCAC semifinals.

“Good teams find ways to win games, and that’s what we did on Saturday,” Manning said. “Even though it was a pretty ugly win, we feel like we have momentum. We know what we’re capable of.”

The women now travel to face top-seeded Tufts on Saturday at 2 p.m. The winner will face either Amherst or Bowdoin in the NESCAC Championship.