Tabor women claim two big wins in successful week

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
College games don’t get much better than the Tabor-Southwestern women’s game in Winfield Saturday night.

Tabor battled the ninth-ranked Moundbuilders evenly for 40 minutes, took the game into overtime and eventually hit a 35-foot shot at the buzzer to win, 67-66.

“The end of the game was just very fortunate,” coach Rusty Allen said. “But if you play as hard and work as hard as we did, once in a while a break will come your way.”

Initially the Bluejays came out strong with Jill Hein drilling her first two jumpers to stake Tabor to a 4-3 lead.

Although it proved to be the last points Hein scored in the first half, she would return in a big way later in the game.

The Bluejays kept it close at historic Stewart Fieldhouse, but Southwestern used the inside presence of 5-foot-10 Niki Nicholas and 6-foot Missy Lungren to gain an advantage in the interior, leading to a 17-11 Moundbuilder lead.

But Tabor befuddled Southwestern somewhat by switching to a zone defense midway through the first half.

“I thought the zone neutralized them a little bit when we sprung it on them,” Allen said. “But we were fortunate they missed several 3-point shots during that stretch and that allowed us to find our flow a little bit.”

It also allowed Tabor to find a mini-run that whittled the Builders’ lead to 26-24 with 6:32 to play in the half.

But the Moundbuilders responded with a 9-3 run to take a 35-27 lead into halftime.

The key to the first half, Allen said, was a 20-12 advantage by SC on the glass and 12 Bluejay turnovers.

“That was the point spread right there,” he said.

Allen preached patience at halftime.

“We don’t have a dominating inside presence so we’ve got to be willing to come down if we don’t have the break, be disciplined and break the defense,” he said. “I told told them if we were going to win this game, the first five minutes of the second half had to belong to us.”

Tabor not only owned those minutes, they should have patented them.

The Bluejays streaked to a 13-0 run, transforming an eight-point deficit into a 40-35 lead with 14:31 to play.

Hein anchored the offensive surge by reeling off 11 in a row.

“Jill was fearless,” Allen said. “She just flat stepped up for us.”

Just as important as the offensive explosion was for Tabor, so too was its stifling defense.

With freshmen Donya Anderson and Nicole Ellis arching their backs in the paint, the duo stymied Southwestern’s inside presence, rendering Lungren so ineffective she temporarily took a seat on the bench.

“I thought Donya and Nicole did a great job on the inside,” Allen said. “We…made her hurt us over somebody instead of giving up the lob and she struggled.”

What made their work more impressive was the absence of fellow freshman Jessica Vineyard, who missed her second straight game with back problems.

But just as soon as Tabor grabbed the lead, Southwestern came back with an 8-0 to push ahead, 43-40.

Unswayed, Tabor reciprocated with an 8-0 run to jump back on top with 7:38 to play.

From that point on, the game was a battle down to the wire-and then some.

Southwestern connected on eight straight free throws and tied the game at 50-50 with 4:31 to play.

Lungren put SC on top at 55-52 with 1:24 to play, but the Bluejays found Wertenberger open on the left wing and the senior calmly drilled a 20-footer from the baseline to knot the score at 55 with 1:09 to play.

Neither team could find a way to score after that, and when Southwestern missed a short jumper in the lane with four seconds left, the contest went to overtime still tied at 55.

But Allen said said he team entered the extra frame shorthanded.

“They absolutely had the advantage,” he said. “We had both of our centers (Anderson and Ellis) on the bench with five fouls.”

But Southwestern was balanced initially, drilling their first two field-goal attempts, both 3-pointers.

“I thought that would grab enough momentum to win the game for them, but I’m just so proud of our players because they were just tough minded. Nobody panicked and there was no quit in them.”

Trailing 61-57, the Bluejays scored the next five points to grab a 62-61 lead. But Andrea Mohr hit Southwestern’s third 3-pointer in overtime to retake the lead at 64-62 with 1:21 left.

But once again, Hein answered the bell and tied the game at 64 with 25 seconds to play.

Southwestern worked for what they thought was a last shot and hit it to grab a 66-64 lead with just 2.5 second to play.

But magic was in the air on this night, and Harry Houdini spelled his name “Wertenberger.”

Allen set up the play, and it worked to perfection-almost.

“It happened just like we set it up except it was supposed to go to Jill,” he said. “I told them we had time to grab the pass, take two dribbles and shoot.

“They were looking for Jill so that opened Rachelle up on the screen,” he added. “Angela made a great choice, got her the ball and what did she do-she dribbled twice and launched it.”

And for Bluejay fans, Cape Canaveral never saw a more beautiful launch as the ball floated through the air, off the glass, and through the rim as time expired, giving Tabor the dramatic win.

“I just shot it hoping it would go in and when it did I was just amazed,” Wertenberger said with a smile. “Even clear down to the locker room, I still couldn’t believe it went in. But there were a lot of other plays throughout the game that put us in that position.”

Hein finished with 25 points, 21 in the second half. Wertenberger added 14 points and Kroeker 12.

Whitney Corley and Lungren led the Moundbuilders with 17 each.

Tabor hit 48 percent of its shots while Southwestern shot just under 36 percent. The home team won the rebounding battle, 43-37, with Erica Hemmert leading Tabor with 11 and Anderson grabbing 10.

Tabor was guilty of 26 turnovers and Southwestern 21.

With the win, the Bluejays improved to 16-10 overall and 10-6 in the KCAC with two games remaining while Southwestern fell to 22-4 overall and 13-3 in the KCAC.

“This has got to do a lot for our confidence,” Allen said. “No matter where we go or who we play in post season, this win will help.”

Wertenberger agreed.

“We really wanted to pull this one off so we could go into the tournament knowing we can beat any team in our conference,” she said. “Tonight we proved we’re as good as anybody, and hopefully we can go into the KCAC tournament and earn a trip to the national tournament.”

Ottawa-Maybe it’s good old home cooking. Maybe the Bluejays just had an off night the first meeting. Or maybe Tabor has improved a lot.

Whatever the case, Tabor certainly looked like a different team than it was at Ottawa a month earlier in a 68-48 loss to the Braves.

This time, Tabor jumped on top early and held on down the stretch to beat Ottawa 60-56 to avenge that earlier loss.

In the previous meeting this year, Ottawa had 18 points by the time Tabor scored its first seven points.

But on Thursday night, the Bluejays raced to a 7-0 advantage, setting the tone for the night that said Tabor wasn’t going to be pushed around.

“Coming into the game we knew for the first four or five minutes we were going to be tough nosed,” coach Rusty Allen said. “We were going to make sure the game was at the very least going to be a neutral game.”

Just 24 seconds into the contest, Erica Hemmert drilled a 3-pointer to stake Tabor to a lead the Bluejays would hold until the final horn sounded.

That basket was followed by ones from Angela Kroeker and Donya Anderson, and suddenly Tabor led 7-0.

But Ottawa didn’t amass an 18-6 overall record by wilting under pressure. A methodical push by the Braves brought them to within a single point of Tabor, 19-18, with 9:12 left in the half.

But the Bluejays reeled off nine consecutive points, including a pair of baskets by Hemmert and one each from Anderson and Nicole Ellis to stretch the lead to 28-18 with 5:22 to play.

Allen said the Bluejays’ ability to limit the offense of Ottawa’s big two-Amber Lannan and Gina Wheat-was instrumental in the success Tabor enjoyed.

“I thought the key to the game was that we combined neutralizing their center (Lannan), but we also guarded their 3-point shooters as well,” Allen said. “We really guarded Wheat effectively and put her in a position that she basically had to force to create offensive opportunities.

“Jill (Hein) and Rachelle (Wertenberger) together really did a nice job of taking away her 3-point shot, but also took away her drives to the basket.”

Tabor managed to maintain a 10-point, 34-24, at halftime.

“We talked about keeping Wheat off the boards at halftime,”Allen said. “She does a lot of things well including rebounding.”

Wheat leads the KCAC in rebounding at 9.2 per game and ranks fourth in scoring at 15.8 points per game.

But rebounding wasn’t a problem in the first half for Tabor, as the Bluejays held a 25-17 advantage.

The second half began on the same note as the first half ended.

Hein dropped in a basket, followed by another Hemmert 3-pointer, and suddenly the Bluejays owned a 15-point lead, 39-24, less than a minute into the second half.

But the Braves slowly but surely chipped into Tabor’s lead, aided by an offensive outage on the part of the Bluejays.

Leading 48-35 with 12:46 to play in the game, Tabor suffered through a horrible stretch that saw them score just two points over the next eight minutes.

In the process, the Braves scored 11 points to whittle the Bluejay lead to four points at 50-46 with 4:15 remaining.

Angela Kroeker finally pumped in a 20-footer from the top of the key to extend the Bluejay lead to seven. Anderson followed with a basket hoop to push the lead to 55-46 with 2:26 to play.

But Ottawa wasn’t done yet.

A Lannan basket followed by three Braves’ free throws cut the lead to 55-51 with 1:32 to play.

After Hemmert beat the press on Tabor’s next possession for a six-point lead, Hallie Boyce stroked a 3-pointer to cut the lead to three points with 1:20 to play.

Tabor couldn’t connect on its next attempt, but Hemmert proved her defensive skills by stealing the Ottawa outlet pass at mid-court.

Ottawa was forced to foul on the inbounds play and Trixsi Odom calmly stroked a pair of free throws to extend the Bluejay lead to 59-54 with just 33 seconds left.

Ellis added a late free throw to make the final score 60-56.

Hemmert finished with 17 points, grabbed a game-high nine rebounds, dished out three assists and didn’t commit a single turnover.

“Erica had a great line,”Allen said. “I talked to Erica today and asked if she was nervous about playing point. She said she’s confident and has been running things through her mind and knew she could do it.”

Anderson also reached double figures with 11 points and grabbed six boards.

Ottawa was led by Lannan, who scored 12 points, but the Bluejays held Wheat to just seven points.

Tabor hit just 39 percent of their shots but held Ottawa to under 33 percent from the field.

With the win, the Bluejays improved to 9-6 in conference play and 15-10 overall.

“It’s a really good win for us and it’s exciting,” Allen said. “It’s one of those games that tips you one way or the other. You win a few games like this and it lets you finish in a better position in the conference.”

Coming-Tabor enters the final week with games at Saint Mary Thursday and a home match with Friends on Saturday.

“I expect we’ll have to play as well as we did tonight to win at Saint Mary,” Allen said. “Everyone whose gone there has either gotten beat or been scared to death.We need to win to keep on our roll.”

More from article archives
BIRTHS: Makaiya Russell
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN Corissa and Josh Russell announce the birth of a girl,...
Read More