Tabor women rebound with win over Friends

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
It may sound strange, but only two games into an 18-game conference schedule, Tabor women’s coach Rusty Allen said his team faced a must-win situation.

“If we’re going to stay in the conference race, we pretty much needed to win this game,” Allen said after his team defeated Friends, 61-51, Saturday night in Hillsboro.

“You just can’t go down 0-2 in this conference and really have a very good feeling about winning a championship.

“With that said, I think the KCAC winner will have two or three losses, but it’s unlikely you’ll get those in your first two games and then hang in there the rest of the way,” he said. “That’s a really long haul.”

In a battle of the birds, the Bluejays battled the Falcons on even terms early in the game. Tabor struggled to an 11-7 lead with 9:36 to play in the half-primarily on the strength of Jill Hein’s seven points.

“I thought both teams were really nervous or something,” Allen said. “I thought both teams played really good defense, too.”

But Friends found its groove and scored the next 11 points to take an 18-11 lead with 6:13 to play.

The Bluejays rallied to tie the game on a Hein 3-pointer with 43 seconds left and headed to the halftime locker rooms tied at 22.

The second half opened with the teams trading the lead three times before Katie Fast hit a 6-foot jump hook from the baseline to put Tabor on top, 29-28, at the 15:33 mark.

Soon after, Fast hit another short jumper on a sweet assist from Shannon Kroeker to give Tabor a 31-28 lead.

That’s when Kelly Pavlik scored the game’s next seven points to give Tabor a much-needed boost and a 38-28 cushion.

“Kelly’s play for a few minutes really sparked our team,” Allen said. “Her teammates were even talking about that in the locker room. It got us some momentum and some confidence.”

Ashley Binford hit a runner to cut the lead to 38-30, but Hein nailed a 3-pointer and a short jumper to put Tabor ahead, 44-30, at the 10:42 mark.

Friends sliced the lead to five on two occasions, the last one at 50-45. But Tabor held on for its first conference victory.

Hein led the team with 21 points and Pavlik added 13 points as Tabor hit 52 percent of its shots in the second half after 27-percent shooting in the opening 20 minutes.

Tabor narrowly won the rebounding battle, 42-41, led by Hein with nine.

Even with the fast paced contest and physical defense, Tabor committed just 12 turnovers.

“I really complimented our team in the locker room,” he said. “I told them Friends guarded the ball well and denied the passing lanes, but we made basic plays, moved the ball with strength and fought off their physical play.”

With the win, Tabor improves to 6-4 overall and 1-1 in KCAC play.

“This puts us in a position to say we’re legitimately in the conference race,” Allen said. “We’ve got a chance to be 3-1 (in KCAC play) going into the Christmas break.”

Southwestern-The good news is the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference season began on Thursday. The bad news is the Bluejay women started the season about six minutes after Southwestern did.

Tabor fell behind 10-0 during the time and took almost seven minutes to score. In the end, the slow start proved costly as the Bluejays lost, 62-60.

“They took us off guard by playing a lot of zone defense and it took us awhile to adjust and get into a rhythm,” coach Rusty Allen said. “Plus, we couldn’t get a shot to drop.”

With the Moundbuilder defense sagging to clog the lanes, Tabor was reduced to launching 3-pointers. They connected on only one of 12 in the first 20 minutes.

“We were a little robotic to start the game, but if a couple of shots had fallen, we probably would have found that rhythm sooner,” Allen said.

Still, the Bluejays methodically climbed back into contention. When Katie Fast connected on a pair of free throws with just over a minute to play in the half, Tabor took its first lead of the contest at 20-19 and went on for a 22-19 halftime advantage.

“We climbed back into it, so I don’t think that slow start killed us,” Allen said. “We started moving the ball quicker, penetrating their zone, posting up stronger down low and started hitting some shots around the basket.”

The second half began with a Stacie Herman field goal and three Erica Hemmert free throws for a 27-19 Tabor lead-its biggest of the night.

Whether or not the cause was the alleged curse of Stewart Fieldhouse, Southwestern climbed back into the game, eventually catching Tabor at 31 with 13:11 remaining.

From that point, the game was tied 10 times and neither team led by more than five points.

Keying Southwestern’s comeback was 5-foot-10 all-conference guard Whitney Corley.

“We had to give so much attention to Corley on the perimeter that we weren’t really able to help off on the post, and that caught up to us a little bit,” Allen said. “Corley is such a threat we had to respect that it gave their post players more chances to hurt us as the game went along.”

With 1:48 remaining, Jennifer Chenier sank a short jumper to put Southwestern on top 58-55. But Herman answered 20 seconds later with a 20-foot 3-pointer to tie the game at 58.

With just over a minute left, Karah Covey missed a pair of free throws. But Southwestern rebounded, Mahgan Miles was fouled and sank a pair of free throws to put the Builders on top 60-58 with 1:03 to play.

Moving quickly down court, Jill Hein fed Fast, and the lanky freshman drilled a 10-footer in the lane to tie the game at 60 with 55 seconds left.

Southwestern missed its next shot but grabbed the rebound with 30 seconds to play setting up the final dramatic sequence.

With Tabor defense geared to stop Corley, Southwestern went to her anyway and the senior responded by hitting a tightly contested 14-foot jumper with two seconds left to put the Builders on top, 62-60.

“We handled that just about as good as you could ask a team to handle it,” Allen said.

One last Tabor desperation heave was intercepted as the final seconds ticked away and Southwestern owned a hard-fought win.

Tabor shot just 32 percent (19-60) from the floor, while Southwestern connected on 18 of 52 shots (35 percent).

Tabor sank 17 of 25 (68 percent) free throws while the Builders sizzled at 21-of-24 (87.5 percent).

The difference in the outcome, according to Allen, was miniscule.

“It’s just one of those games-the margin of error is sometimes slim, but I told the girls we did a lot of things in a situation that was tough, that put us in a position to win.”

Fast led Tabor in scoring with 17 points while Hemmert added 15 and Herman 14.

Corley led all scorers with 20.

Tabor out-rebounded the Builders 42-40, led by Donya Anderson with seven.

“I told the girls after the game that I was proud of them and I thought they were really determined,” Allen said. “This time of the season we’re not nearly as good as we’re going to be, but this is only one game and we need to learn on any given night that we can be in for this type of battle.

“We just have to make sure we give ourselves a chance to win every time out and we did that tonight,” he said. “We have to do that every night.”

Fort Hays State-Tabor stepped outside the conference Tuesday to battle the NCAA Div. II Tigers at Hays. A quick start by the Tigers was enough to propel them to a 70-53 win.

“Fort Hays played real aggressive and real physical and caught us off guard,” coach Rusty Allen said of his team’s 41-23 halftime deficit. “We fell behind by about 15 points in the first 10 minutes of the game so we were kind of able to neutralize the rout, as it were, from then on.”

Tabor shot just 27 percent from the field in the first half while the Tigers connected on 47 percent.

A layup by Erica Hemmert cut the lead to 51-41 with 9:20 to play. But the next six points belonged to the Tigers and Tabor never got closer than 14 points after that.

Allen said his team’s offense struggled all night.

“We just didn’t execute at all,” he said. “We didn’t run the things that are patterned for us to run, we didn’t read and react to the defense and we didn’t reverse the ball.

“(Fort Hays)really exposed the amount of work we have to do.”

Katie Fast came off the bench to lead Tabor with 15 points and Hemmert chipped in 13 as Tabor hit 30 percent of its shots in the contest; FHSU sank 45 percent.

“Katie really did a nice job posting up strong, playing hard and rebounding,” Allen said. “We can’t complain about how Katie played.”

FHSU won the rebounding battle, 44-37, as Fast hauled down 11 to lead Tabor.

Allen said one thing he was pleased with was the Bluejays’ ability to hang tough after the early onslaught.

“Our competitiveness is good, and that’s been shown in a lot of games already,” he said. “I think that quality deserves credit for a lot of our wins, but we need to improve our execution because it’s getting to the time where our competitiveness will be neutralized and it can only take you so far.”

Coming-Tabor was scheduled to play Manhattan Christian College on Monday night . The Bluejays return home to host Saint Mary on Thursday, then travel to McPherson on Saturday.

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