The Baker Orange

Wildcats secure share of HAAC title

Story by Sara Bell, Editor

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It had been more than three decades since the Baker University women’s basketball team claimed a Heart of America Athletic Conference championship.

That drought came to an end Thursday, though, when the 13th-ranked Wildcats recorded an 85-63 victory over Peru State College in Collins Center. The 14th-consecutive win earned Baker at least a share of the regular season title for the first time since 1983.

Conference Update

Wildcats claim outright title with win at Missouri Valley

For head coach Ben Lister, the team’s achievement was almost too surreal to put into words.

“For the last two years, we’ve been selling an idea to the program … that this is what we wanted to do and now it’s a reality,” Lister said. “It’s hard for that to set in in one night because it’s just such a long season, a long grind to win the regular season championship. To start 0-1 and rattle off 14 (wins) in a row, that’s hard to do. That means you are playing really good basketball for a long time.”

Heading into the season, sophomore Taylor Chase knew the team had potential, but a banner season wasn’t something she expected.

“I knew we were a lot better than we had been in the past, but coming in, I didn’t know we would have a season as good as this. It’s just amazing to be a part of something like this,” Chase said.

During Thursday’s matchup, Baker led the Bobcats by 16 points at halftime, but Lister said the team seemed to be nervous and timid during the opening half. However, the third-year head coach believes the Wildcats found confidence in the second half. One of these players was senior guard BriAnna Garza, who posted 12 of her team-high 19 points after the break.

“Bri just settled down in the second half and played like she is capable of playing,” Lister said. “She played like a kid that I think is player of the year in the conference. She showed that ability in the second half, passed the ball extremely well and just knocked down some open shots at critical times to really stop Peru from getting back in the game.”

Lister believes Garza has the potential to become the HAAC Offensive Player of the Year and that sophomore Macy Wallisch is a contender for the Defensive Player of the Year.

“Macy just changes games around the rim … Macy makes plays at critical times. She gets big blocks, she gets momentum-changing rebounds, and she anchors the best defense in the conference,” Lister said.

When Wallisch signed to play for Baker, the Wildcats were in the middle of a 6-24 season. This statistic made her somewhat hesitant about the potential of the program, but her uncertainty soon faded.

“Coming in, … the team wasn’t doing so well. They had won six the whole season, and I was really skeptical about it,” Wallisch said. “Now that we’ve come this far and are doing so well, it’s kind of exciting. To know that we were a part of (the turnaround) and a reason for it is pretty amazing.”

The Wildcats have one regular season game remaining and a chance to claim the conference title outright. They have a one-game lead in the league standings over reigning conference champion MidAmerica Nazarene University.

Lister said even though the Wildcats already have a share of the title before they play at Missouri Valley College on Saturday, they will remain focused.

“We have a lot of animosity toward the team that’s right below us, MidAmerica. We’re not big fans of each other, our schools haven’t been for a while,” Lister said. “I don’t think our girls have any intention of wanting to share that with MidAmerica. I think our mentality right now is that we want to say we’re the best team in the conference, not one of the two best teams in the conference.”

Baker has not lost a HAAC road game this season, and Chase said the Wildcats have no intention of slowing down.

“I think we couldn’t be more confident going into Saturday because we really have nothing to lose. We already have this conference championship,” Chase said.

The contest against Missouri Valley is scheduled for 2 p.m. in Marshall, Mo.

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