MNU claims HAAC championship in overtime

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MNU claims HAAC championship in overtime

Steve Sanders

Steve Sanders

Steve Sanders

Story by Sara Bell, Editor

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The Baker University women’s basketball team’s 17-game win streak came to a close Tuesday during the Heart of America Athletic Conference Tournament championship game.

Forty minutes wasn’t enough to settle the BU-MidAmerica Nazarene University rivalry as the Pioneers pulled out a 79-72 overtime victory in Collins Center.

Although the championship loss was disappointing to the Wildcats, head coach Ben Lister realized the way the Pioneers celebrated the win tells the true story of Baker’s success this season.

“The way (MNU) responded to winning that championship, to me, says that they have a lot more respect for our program than they did a year ago,” Lister said. “Now, it’s a big win for them.”

It certainly was a big win for the Pioneers, who had five players score in double figures. MNU not only relied on its starting five, but also used its depth to score 29 points off the bench. While the Pioneers provided a balanced offense, Baker relied heavily on its three starting guards – particularly, junior Krystie Ehm.

The 5-foot-11-inch guard had one of her best performances of the season against MNU, posting a game-high 26 points. Within the first 10 minutes of the game, Ehm had 14 of Baker’s 19 points.

“She’s just playing with more aggression right now and has a better feel of what we need her to do offensively,” Lister said. “She played a great game for us, and I’m very proud of her effort tonight.”

During the first half, Ehm was the only Wildcat to score more than six points, but BU still went to the locker room with a 36-32 halftime advantage. After the break, Baker went on a 10-4 run, but things quickly turned in MNU’s favor. The Pioneers responded with a 15-1 run over the next six minutes, giving the visitors a 51-47 edge.

“I thought we lost the game at that point,” Lister said. “We gave them the momentum back. Credit (MNU’s head coach Jon Lewis), he switched to a zone there for a few possessions, and we just weren’t prepared for that.”

Despite these MNU adjustments, Baker was able to hit some key shots over the next 10 minutes of the second half, sending the game into overtime.

Four of Baker’s starters played more than 35 minutes during fast-paced contest, which led to some fatigue in overtime. MNU outscored the Wildcats 15-8 during the five extra minutes, leading to the 79-72 victory.

With the win, MNU secured the league’s automatic berth to the NAIA National Tournament in Frankfort, Ky., but this doesn’t mark the end of the road for the Wildcats. Baker also has a spot in the 32-team tournament after winning the HAAC regular-season championship.

While the Wildcats didn’t find the result they were hoping for, Lister said the team gained valuable experience during the championship contest.

“It was a national tournament quality game,” Lister said. “It’s going to prepare us for next week, and that’s the most important thing to get out of this.”

The NAIA is scheduled to announce the national championship pairings at 7 p.m. Wednesday, with the first round beginning on March 19-20.