The Baker Orange

After close loss, women hope for national bid

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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The third-seeded women’s basketball team lost to the second-seeded Benedictine Ravens in the Heart of America Athletic Conference tournament semifinals on Friday night in Atchison 57-55.

Senior Kyrstie Ehm missed the potential game-tying shot as the buzzer sounded. The loss snapped the Wildcats’ nine game winning streak and eliminated Baker from the HAAC tournament.

“It was a really good look,” head coach Ben Lister said. “It’s tough.”

The loss eliminates the Wildcats from the conference tournament and could potentially end their season. Baker is hoping for an at-large bid in the NAIA national tournament in Independence, Missouri over spring break. Lister’s team is looking for its second consecutive appearance at nationals. The loss puts the decision out of the team’s hands.

The Wildcats are currently 21-9 and the 26th ranked team in the NAIA. They finished third in the conference, they’ve won nine of their last ten, and have not lost to an NAIA opponent by more than double digits. The case seems to be in favor of Baker making the 32-team field but now it is up to the committee.

Against Benedictine, the Wildcats struggled throughout the first half in finding a rhythm. The Ralph Nolan Gymnasium was rocking from start to finish from the fans in both red-and-black and orange-and-blue. Baker immediately went down 8-0, a replica of the team’s 9-0 drought to start the game in the Wildcats’ 63-57 win on Feb. 12 in Atchison.

“I didn’t feel like we were in sync,” Lister said.

The Wildcats responded with a 14-5 run and the game would be back and forth for the remainder of the contest. Baker shot 57 percent from the field in the first half compared to Benedictine’s 38 percent.

The reason Baker was losing was the turnovers. Baker coughed the ball up 11 times in the first half compared to only 6 by the Ravens. The game was low scoring, as predicted, and the Wildcats went into the locker room trailing 31-27.

“We both did a good job in taking away the other teams’ first option on offense,” Lister said. “Sometimes you have to have secondary players step up and make some plays.”

The Baker bench struggled for the majority of the night. Only six total players ended up scoring and only two bench players got into the scoring column in senior Angel Woods and freshman Caitlin Modesett.

“We didn’t have the bench depth that we usually have,” Lister said. “I think we struggled there.”

The Wildcats were out-rebounded 34-29 and allowed 15 offensive rebounds for Benedictine. The Wildcats allowed an uncharacteristic 12 first-half offensive rebounds.

“That’s just not who we are,” Lister said. “Despite all that we were still in the game with a chance to tie it.”

The game was within 10 points the entire second half. Benedictine would run, The teams ended up evening out in the final eight minutes when it was a one or two possession game for the remainder.

Baker led two times in the second half. The first was with 5:20 to play when junior Macy Wallisch knocked down a long two to give Baker a 47-46 lead. Wallisch scored 10 first=half points but this was her only second half basket. Baker’s second lead came when Ehm knocked down two free throws with 2:59 to play to give Baker a 50-49 lead.

The game had the feel that it was going to come down to which team has the ball on the final possession. For the first 39 minutes, Benedictine’s best player, junior Chayla Ruttledge, had not made a shot from the field. Ruttledge had made three free throws but was held empty everywhere else. In the teams’ first meeting this season Ruttledge was the difference maker down the stretch, knocking down tree huge threes and finishing with 26 points.

When Ruttledge caught the ball from behind the arc with the shot clock running down, she had one more chance to redeem herself. The entire game Wallisch played great defense on Ruttledge on the perimeter. The only lapse in Wallisch’s defensive on the night resulted in the game’s biggest shot. With 50 seconds left Ruttledge was left alone on the perimeter and the HAAC’s top player knocked down the trifecta to give BC the 54-50 lead.

But Baker responded with a three from Ehm on the next possession with 36 seconds left to cut the lead back to one. Both teams exchanged two free throws with sophomore Ali Taff knocking down two and Ehm hitting two.

Baker put Benedictine’s senior Jackie Ziesel on the line with 10 seconds left and a 56-55 score. Ziesel made the first and missed the second. The Wildcats got the ball into the hands of their best player, Ehm, and Ehm missed a floater in the lane from eight feet to give Benedictine the 57-55 victory.

Ehm finished with 16 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2-4 from downtown. Junior Jami Hodge ended the night with 11 points and 2 assists. Woods scored 8 points and nailed 4-5 free throws to go along with 3 boards and 2 assists. Junior Ericka Simpson and Modesett both finished the game with 4 points and a trifecta per player.

Baker cooled off from its 52 percent in the first half to 35 percent in the second half. The Ravens capitalized on the Baker turnovers, scoring 24 points off 19 BU errors. Baker only scored 8 points on the Ravens’ 17 turnovers.

The game ultimately came down to Baker’s biggest weakness throughout the conference slate, the free-throw line. Baker didn’t even shoot a bad percentage, though. Baker finished at the line making 13 of 18 free throws. The problem was Benedictine went 15 of 19 from the stripe — two more made free throws in a two-point game.

“It’s been awhile since we felt the sting of defeat,” Lister said. “It’s going to be a tough one to get over because we felt like we were playing at a high level. Credit Benedictine.”

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