The Baker Orange

Women advance to semifinals

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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The third-seeded women’s basketball team defeated the sixth-seeded Graceland Yellow Jackets 82-65 on Wednesday, March 4, in the Collins Center in the first round of the HAAC tournament. The Wildcats improved to 21-8 on the season and won their ninth straight game. They will take on the second-seeded Benedictine College Ravens in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday in Atchison.

“I thought we had a really good offensive game plan and we executed extremely well,” head coach Ben Lister said. “We really felt like we had an advantage in the paint.”

The Wildcats started the game by knocking down seven of their first eight shots to snag a 21-6 lead in the first seven minutes. Senior Kyrstie Ehm scored 14 first-half points while sophomore Kelsey Larson snagged five rebounds. Baker finished the first half up, 41-29.

The light switch turned on for Baker in the second half, as usual. A basket from junior Jami Hodge and a three-pointer from Larson began the Wildcats’ final 20 minutes. The Yellow Jackets got into foul trouble with their top guns senior Rebecca Easton and leading scorer sophomore Sydney Vaughn picking up their third and fourth fouls, respectively, in the first four minutes. Vaughn, visibly upset, kicked the trashcan on the end of the Graceland bench in disgust.

With a 46-35 Baker lead, the ‘Cats got a huge break when Graceland’s sophomore Gabrielle Lapinski fouled junior Macy Wallisch and said a few choice words to the officials. Unfortunately for Graceland, Lapinski chose the wrong words and was issued a technical foul, her fifth foul, and was forced to exit the game 15 minutes early.

Graceland would then cut the lead to 48-40 with 13:01 to play and it looked like the Yellow Jackets might linger around until the end. However, emotions got the best of Graceland head coach Rich Harrop and he was issued a technical as well. Graceland’s frustration was enough to swing the momentum Baker’s way and the Wildcats never looked back.

The Wildcats finished the game with a cool demeanor even with the game’s physicality, hard fouls, and tough officiating. The Wildcats’ 82-65 victory propelled the Wildcats into the semifinals of the HAAC tournament.

“Our kids were aggressive to attack and they finished under control,” Lister said. “They made their high percentage shots, where we’ve struggled in the past.”

First-team all-conference guard Ehm finished with 20 points on 7-10 from the field and 7 rebounds. Ehm is averaging more than 20 points per contest in her last three games and is reassuring the conference of her talent.

“Kyrstie’s in a zone right now,” Lister said. “If your best player can come out and shoot 60 percent from the field then you’re going to be successful.”

Baker also out-rebounded Graceland 48-27, including 12 on the offensive glass. The Wildcats shot 18-28 from the free throw line for a sluggish 64 percent.

“For whatever reason we continue to struggle at the free throw line,” Lister said. “Sixty-four percent is nothing to get excited about.”

The Wildcats will now go to battle with the second-seeded Benedictine College Ravens at 7 p.m. Friday night in Atchison. Both times the teams met this season, the games were close and physical.

“Bottom line is (Benedictine is) a good basketball team and we are going to need to be ready to go,” Lister said.

Benedictine knocked off Baker 77-73 at the Collins Center on Jan. 8 after a 26-point performance from the conference’s top player, junior Chayla Ruttledge. Ruttledge hit every shot down the stretch to defeat Baker.

“They execute really well; they’re well coached,” Lister said. “We have to be really attentive to what we’re doing defensively and we can’t break down because they know how to take advantages of those types of things.”

Baker returned the favor in Atchison on Feb. 12 when the Wildcats defeated the Ravens 63-57. Baker shot 51 percent from the field to go along with the team’s best overall finish of the season.

“We still have unfinished business to take care of,” Lister said. “We’re focused on beating Benedictine not just because we don’t like them and we want to beat them. We want to win the conference tournament.”

The environment will be lively at Ralph Nolan Gymnasium in Atchison and the students in “The Pit” will be in the ears of the Wildcats on every possession. A win should put the stamp on the Wildcats’ ticket to the NAIA tournament as well as a berth in the conference finals.

“I think we should be in after we won (Wednesday),” Lister said. “We are the top three in our league and we’ve proved that, yet again, by being in the semifinals with 21 wins, we’ve beaten top 25 competition and we have no bad losses.”

Lister is excited about his team’s chances in Atchison.

“Hopefully we are clicking on all cylinders and playing well,” Lister said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to go over there and knock them off in their own gym.”

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