Women clinch spot in Fab Four


Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

The No. 22 Baker women beat the No. 13 Lewis-Clark State Warriors 71-52 in the NAIA quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon in Independence, Missouri, and clinched a spot in the Fab Four for the first time in school history. The Wildcats will take on their conference rival Benedictine at 6 p.m. on Monday night in the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.

“It’s going to be nuts in here with those two teams going at it,” head coach Ben Lister said.

Baker tied the school record for wins in a season with Saturday’s 27th victory. Win No. 28 would put the Wildcats into the national title game.

Before the game began the Wildcats knew who they would play if they were victorious. The Benedictine Ravens beat Campbellsville 45-36 in front of a large crowd of red and black from Atchison.

“They earned the right to be here,” Lister said, “It’s just nice for our league and this guarantees a Heart team will play for a national championship, which has never happened before.”

Senior Jami Hodge opened the game with a 3-pointer, continuing her dominant week. Then sophomore Sydney Buchel showed off her perimeter shooting with trifectas on back-to-back possessions and then another 15-foot jumper. But Lewis-Clark answered every Baker make on its offensive end. Baker led 13-10 halfway through the first quarter.

Senior Macy Wallisch picked up her second foul early in the first quarter, forcing head coach Ben Lister to use his depth in the post with sophomore Courtney Hoag and junior Kenzie Cook. Hoag immediately came into the game with hustle and dove onto the floor for a loose ball, and Cook forced a jump ball on the other end, saving two Baker possessions.

Baker ended the first quarter 4-5 from beyond the arc and led Lewis-Clark 20-15.

The Wildcats started the second quarter with four straight turnovers with senior Ericka Simpson and Hodge on the bench. After the fourth turnover, Hodge turned to her teammates and screamed, “Let’s go.” One possession later, Hodge forced a steal and scored on a breakaway layup.

Junior Kelsey Larson scored her first basket on a deep 3-pointer. Two possessions later she did it again, this time with a hand in her face. Baker took its largest lead of the game at 30-21 with 2:26 to go before the break.

Baker led Lewis-Clark 32-23 at halftime and held the Warriors to 0-6 from beyond the arc. The Warriors came into the game shooting 40 percent from three, best in the NAIA.

Lewis-Clark outscored Baker 15-12 in the third quarter, but the Wildcats maintained their lead. Larson scored on a 3-point play with a great take to the rim. The Wildcats also shot 6-8 at the free-throw line, an improvement from the 2-4 mark in the first half. Baker led Lewis-Clark 44-38 at the end of the third quarter.

The Warriors trimmed Baker’s lead to two within the first 90 seconds of the fourth quarter, but Simpson nailed her first 3-pointer of the game to respond and give Baker a five-point cushion with eight minutes to play.

With 4:35 to play, Wallisch put the ball on the floor and drove to the basket. Her shot missed, but Buchel was there for the rebound. Buchel scored and was fouled and the Baker crowd was ecstatic. Buchel made the free throw and Baker led 58-49.

After Lewis-Clark drained a deep 3-pointer, Simpson drove to the rim and banked in a fade-away floater, her signature shot. The Wildcats were in control with a 61-52 lead.

After Hodge made two free throws off of an intentional foul, Larson drained a corner 3-pointer to give Baker an 18-point lead. Larson’s trifecta put the Baker fans on their feet, and the Wildcats had sealed the victory and a trip to the Fab Four on Monday night.

As the final buzzer sounded the Wildcats jumped in elation in front of the Baker bench and fans.

“That’s those girls playing great defense and finding ways to win,” Lister said. “That’s what we do.”

For the second straight game, the Wildcats held an excellent 3-point shooting team to sub-par percentages. The Warriors finished the game 3-16 from deep. Baker was 9-19 from beyond the arc.

Larson led the Wildcats with 17 points on 4-7 shooting from beyond the arc. Buchel and Hodge both finished with 15 points. Simpson scored 11 second half points to give her 11, and Wallisch scored nine points.

After playing two games in three days, the Wildcats will get Sunday off to recover and prepare for the semifinal game on Monday night.

For the third time this season, Baker will matchup with the Benedictine College Ravens. Baker won the first meeting 65-48 in Baldwin City, in a dominant performance. Benedictine rallied in the final moments in Atchison to beat Baker 51-48.

The stage has been set for the crucial rematch.