Women’s basketball claims conference title outright

Story by Sara Bell, Editor

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Despite posting a season-high 32 turnovers, the No. 13 Baker University women’s basketball team claimed the Heart of America Athletic Conference championship outright with a 62-50 victory over Missouri Valley College on Saturday in Marshall, Mo.

The Wildcats secured at least a share of the conference title after Thursday’s senior night victory over Peru State College, but they needed a win over MVC to ensure they did not share the title with MidAmerica Nazarene University. Although Baker did post a 12-point victory, it wasn’t the Wildcats’ most successful outing.

“It (was Missouri Valley’s) senior night – they were ready to play,” head coach Ben Lister said in a post-game press conference. “They had an opportunity to possibly move into fourth place, and they had a lot to play for, so they were ready to go. I don’t know if we were as intense as we needed to be early. I thought we were a little unfocused – that showed up in our ability to take care of the basketball.”

Baker turned the ball over 16 times in the opening half and made just two 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes of the game. When the Wildcats couldn’t find a rhythm offensively, junior Krystie Ehm, who posted a game-high 20 points, was able to keep Baker within striking distance.

“Krystie did a really good job of keeping us in the game considering how much we were really struggling offensively,” Lister said. “Credit Missouri Valley – they did some nice things defensively.”

One of those key shots came just four minutes into the second half. The Wildcats trailed Missouri Valley 30-25 at halftime, but after back-to-back 3-pointers from Ehm and senior BriAnna Garza, Baker took the lead for the first time in 19 minutes.

“We felt confident that they weren’t going to be able to score enough to keep up with us if we hit shots like that,” Lister said. “We played with good momentum and good poise and really finished well in the second half after that, so those were huge shots for us.”

While Ehm anchored the offense, sophomore Macy Wallisch was key in Baker’s defensive effort. The 6-foot-3-inch center blocked 10 shots and pulled down 10 of Baker’s 53 rebounds.

“Her ability on the defensive end to just change shots, alter shots, take up the lane … is the best in the conference,” Lister said. “I haven’t shied away from saying she is the defensive player of the year in my opinion, and 10 blocks kind of proves that today.”

With the win, Baker finished the regular season at 24-5 and 17-1 in HAAC play. The team will now focus on the postseason. Baker has home-court advantage throughout the conference tournament after earning the top seed in the HAAC. The team also received an automatic berth to the NAIA national tournament in Frankfort, Ky.

BU is scheduled to host eighth-seeded Evangel in the opening round of the HAAC tournament at 7 p.m. Thursday in Collins Center.