The Baker Orange

Hot shooting leads BU women to first-round win

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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The No. 22 Baker women opened up the NAIA national tournament with an 80-71 upset win over the No. 12 Columbia College Cougars Wednesday night at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Missouri.

Senior Jami Hodge’s career-high 30 points and the team’s hot 3-point shooting pushed the Wildcats into Friday’s second round.

The Wildcats shot 53 percent from the field and knocked down 11-23 from beyond the arc. The Wildcats had only one other game this season in which they made more than 11 3-pointers.

Baker will now play the second-seeded Shawnee State Bears at 12:30 p.m. on Friday.

The Wildcats quickly took a 15-4 lead to open Wednesday’s game. Senior Macy Wallisch scored from just inside the free-throw line, junior Kelsey Larson scored a layup off of a turnover and Hodge nailed a corner 3-pointer. Following a basket by senior Ericka Simpson, Hodge then made two more trifectas.

Baker made six of its first 10 shots and Columbia only one of its first 10, but the Cougars rallied to cut into the lead. Columbia capped off a 6-0 run with a buzzer-beating basket by freshman Morgan Brandt, and Baker led 17-14 at the end of the first quarter.

Junior Kenzie Cook scored baskets on two straight possessions to give Baker a 25-19 early in the second quarter. Columbia’s full-court pressure made Baker work hard to take the ball into the frontcourt and forced a 10-second violation as well as several turnovers in the backcourt. Columbia took a 32-29 lead with 2:30 to go before the half.

Both teams alternated baskets in the final two minutes of the second quarter. Baker found some holes in the pressure and scored in transition off turnovers. Columbia scored on a breakaway on the first half’s final shot and the Cougars led Baker 38-35 at halftime.

Baker turned the ball over 13 times in the first half and didn’t attempt a free throw. On the other side of the floor, Columbia had five turnovers and went 10-13 at the free-throw line. After a hot first quarter Larson was forced to sit on the bench for the majority of the second quarter with two personal fouls.

The third quarter featured strong offense for both teams. Hodge scored 10 points in the third quarter alone and went 2-3 on 3-pointers. Larson also stepped into a 3-pointer that gave Baker a 55-52 lead with 2:18 to play in the third quarter. Baker and Columbia continued to exchange baskets as the two teams went into the fourth quarter with Columbia leading 58-55.

With the score tied 60-60, Simpson stepped out and hit her first 3-pointer of the game with 6:15 to play. The Cougars didn’t wait long to strike back as freshman Ashlee Marlatt nailed the equalizer just moments later to tie the game at 63-63.

With 3:25 to play Larson’s 3-pointer banged against the front rim, popped straight into the air and fell through the basket, giving Baker a 68-65 lead. This was Larson’s third 3-pointer of the game.

Later in the quarter, Hodge made two free throws with 2:05 to play, but the Cougars then stormed to the other end of the floor for a quick basket. The Wildcats led 70-69 with 1:58 to play.

Hodge kept a Baker possession alive with a hustle rebound under the basket and kicked out for Larson, who nailed another 3-pointer. Then Hodge went the length of the floor on a fast break to score an easy layup that gave Baker a 77-69 lead with 45 seconds left, and the Wildcat bench exploded onto the floor after a Columbia timeout.

Baker sealed the win at the free-throw line and pulled off the first-round upset over the No. 12 team in the NAIA.

Hodge’s career-best 30 points paved the way, while Larson scored 19 points on 5-7 shooting from beyond the arc. Sophomore Sydney Buchel scored nine points with three rebounds, and Wallisch scored six points and tied a career-high with 16 rebounds.

Despite only scoring two points in the first half, Simpson finished the game strong with seven points and a career-high eight assists.

The Wildcats are onto the second round of the national tournament for the second time in three seasons. Friday’s opponent, Shawnee State, won the Mid-South Conference regular season and conference tournament titles at 29-5 overall and 12-2 in conference play.

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