Seniors shine as women win eighth straight

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Seniors shine as women win eighth straight

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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The five seniors were the story for the women’s basketball team in an 85-61 senior night victory over the Missouri Valley College Vikings in the regular-season finale. The five started the game for the Wildcats and combined for 56 points in the team’s eighth consecutive victory. The Wildcats won their 20th game for the third consecutive season and locked up the third seed spot for the HAAC tournament this week.

The weekend was also highlighted by all-conference team selections for senior Kyrstie Ehm and junior Macy Wallisch. Ehm was named first-team all-conference on Sunday night. Ehm was a third-team player last season but elevated her game to reach the first team in 2015. Ehm captured the No. 1 overall free throw percentage in the NAIA with an 86 percent average.

For the second consecutive season, Wallisch was named the Heart of America’s defensive player of the year. Wallisch finished the regular season No. 2 in blocks per game and total blocks with 2.6 and 74.

Ehm and the rest of the seniors – Rashida Simpson, Haleigh Tenpenny, Avery Vogts and Angel Woods – were vital parts in the program’s turnaround. Just three seasons ago, the Wildcats finished 6-24 and in last place in the conference. Two years later, the team won 17 consecutive games on the way to the conference title and then won a game at the NAIA Tournament. This year’s seniors are head coach Ben Lister’s first full class to go through his program while at Baker.

The Vikings came to Baldwin City in fifth place in the conference but were looking for a season sweep over Baker. Missouri Valley defeated Baker 69-66 in Marshall, Missouri, back on Jan. 24.

On Saturday, both teams started out hot and swapped baskets for the first 15 minutes. Baker stretched its lead to 23-12 with 10:37 to play in the first half but the Vikings went on a 14-3 run to even the score at 26-26 with 6:27 left.

MVC led Baker 30-29 with three minutes left in the first half when junior Ericka Simpson took over the game. Simpson knocked down a key three to give Baker a two-point lead. Then after baskets from Tenpenny and Ehm, Simpson struck again when she caught the Vikings napping and stole an inbounds pass and scored an easy layup.

The defense then forced a stop and Baker held for the final shot. Simpson took the ball to the left side of the lane and kissed a floater off the backboard to finish an 11-0 run that gave Baker a 40-30 halftime lead. Simpson scored 7 of her 8 points in this stretch after only scoring 3 in Baker’s 78-64 win at Peru State on Thursday.

The second half was all Baker. The Wildcats shot 44 percent from the field and were 5-10 from three. The threes started to rain down out of the hand of Vogts and she finished 5-7 from downtown. Simpson, Ehm and freshman Caitlin Modesett all finished with one made three.

Baker led by 20 for much of the second half and the lead peaked at 76-51 with 5:34 to play. The Wildcats wound down the final minutes and walked away with their largest margin of victory in conference play, 85-61.

Baker dominated the glass on the offensive and defensive end. Baker finished with 56 rebounds, including 21 on the offensive end, compared to 28 total rebounds from Missouri Valley and only 6 Viking offensive boards. Baker’s top rebounder was Simpson, who grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds.

Ehm led Baker with a season-high 24 points on 10-16 shooting. Vogts finished with career high 16 points; Vogts scored more points in this game than she had in the last five games combined.

Tenpenny tied a career high with 10 points; the last time she reached the 10-point mark was on Nov. 8, 2011, her freshman year. Woods and Simpson scored 3 points each.

Baker enters the HAAC Tournament on an eight-game winning streak. The Wildcats are the No. 3 seeded team and will take on the No. 6 Graceland Yellow Jackets. Baker defeated Graceland 66-56 on Dec. 13 in Lamoni and they also won 80-64 on Feb. 7 in Baldwin City.

Baker will play the Yellow Jackets at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Collins Center. If the Wildcats win they will play the winner of the No. 2 Benedictine Ravens and the winner of No. 7 Peru State and No. 10 Avila. If Baker and Benedictine both win, the Wildcats will play at 7 p.m. on Friday night in Atchison in the semifinals.

All roads still lead to No. 1 MidAmerica Nazarene. If Baker makes it to the final, it could possibly be a rematch of last season’s HAAC championship game between the Wildcats and Pioneers. MNU is the only team that has defeated Baker twice this season.