Women’s basketball heads to Heart tournament finals


Elizabeth Hanson

MidAmerica Nazarene tries to defend sophomore Anna Hignight and the Baker offense in the Heart of America Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals on March 3. The Wildcats defeated MNU to move onto the finals. Photo by Elizabeth Hanson.

Story by Chad Mullen, Writer

The Baker women’s basketball team is moving onto the Heart of America Athletic Conference tournament finals after taking down MidAmerica Nazarene University 63-56 Friday.

Sydnie Hanson led the Wildcats in scoring for the second consecutive game with 15 points.

As a team, the Pioneers were held to 31 percent shooting, in large part due to the Wildcats shutting down MNU’s leading scorer in Tristin Wicks.

“I feel like the post defense overall was great. We held their best post player to zero points after she scored 20-plus on us the first few times,” senior Sydney Buchel said. “MacKenzie (Cook) and Courtney (Hoag) played her tough. We showed up ready to play, we out-rebounded them, and made them take tough shots.”

The one area the Pioneers held the edge over the Wildcats, keeping the game within single digits, was at the free-throw line. MNU had 19 attempts at the foul line compared to just nine for the Wildcats.

“Obviously our fouls were a problem and sending them to the line helped keep them in the game,” Buchel said. “I’m not too concerned about the fouling. Sometimes it just has to do with how aggressive the officials let us play. It usually isn’t a huge problem for us, we just need to keep improving on defense.”

The first quarter ended with the Wildcats up 20-18, and eight of the Pioneers’ points came from free throws. The second quarter was a low-scoring affair, as the Wildcats headed into halftime with a 32-29 advantage. The scoring was spread fairly evenly, as Hanson and Cook led Baker at the half with five points each.

The Wildcats started to stretch out the lead in the third quarter, going up by as many as many as 12 in the quarter. MNU was held to just 11 points in the third quarter, and Baker led 48-40. The Pioneers got to within five points at the 6:42 mark of the fourth quarter, but it was as close as they ever came, as the Wildcats went on a quick 7-0 run to keep a comfortable lead until the final buzzer.

Besides the opportunity to take both the regular season and postseason conference titles, an added layer of motivation came from knocking off the team that kept the Wildcats from winning last year’s NAIA National Championship.

“I think there was a little bit of a revenge factor, but we tried not to look at it that way,” Buchel said. “We just tried to look at it as another game, another win, but it was definitely satisfying to beat them three times in a season and be the reason they’re not going to the national tournament.”

The Wildcats will go on to face Benedictine College at 7:07 p.m. Monday at the Collins Center. Baker was able to sweep the Ravens in the regular season, albeit in close games. The first matchup resulted in a 69-56 overtime victory for the Wildcats on Dec. 10, and they were able to come away with a 64-62 win in the Feb. 11 game in Atchison. Buchel knows not to take them lightly, and to study a lot of film heading into the game.

“Defensively, we know we can guard them,” she said. “We match up pretty well with them, as there’s not much of a size difference. In this game, I think our goals will have to be scoring efficiently, cutting back on turnovers, making them take shots out of their comfort zones, and also knowing each player’s tendencies to make them do stuff they don’t want to do out there.”

“The first time we were okay scoring and the second time we kind of struggled, but if our 3-point shooting is on and our shooters are scoring that will make a difference.”