Bluejays achieve perfect KCAC ending at 18-0

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Just like the little Dutch boy who saved his village from catastrophe by holding his finger in the dike, the Bethel College women did everything they could Saturday to avert the inevitable flood by fourth-ranked Tabor College.

But it didn’t take long for the dam to burst as the high-flying Bluejays washed away the Threshers 70-43 to conclude an undefeated KCAC season at 18-0.

The last time Tabor went undefeated in the KCAC was 1990-1991. The win was Tabor’s 35th straight in KCAC regular season play.

In winning their 22nd straight game and improving to 25-3 overall, Tabor looked like a No. 1 seed at next month’s NAIA national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.

“It’s a good feeling (to go undefeated in the KCAC), but at the same time, there’s still a lot to be accomplished,” coach Rusty Allen said. “(Going undefeated) doesn’t happen very often, anywhere, and I’m really proud of our players.

“We won a lot of close games and overcame a number of adverse situations.”

Give Bethel credit in the early going. A hoop by Marion’s Brandie Peterie-Shipman at the 16:13 mark pulled the Threshers within two points at 8-6.

But the Bluejays responded with a 15-2 run over the next five minutes-highlighted by 3-point baskets from Stacie Herman, Erica Hemmert and Erica Dechant-as the lead swelled to 23-8.

After a Bethel free throw, the half ended with a 16-0 Tabor run over the final minutes to give the Jays a commanding 42-13 lead at intermission.

Tabor built its lead on the strength of 62 percent field-goal accuracy (16-26) while converting seven of nine free throws.

The second half was more of the same as Bethel never crawled closer than 28 points. Tabor’s largest lead ballooned to 39 points at 66-27 with 7:56 remaining.

When the final horn sounded, 12 Bluejays scored and 16 saw court time.

Herman and Donya Anderson led the Tabor with 14 points each. The Bluejays finished with 49 percent accuracy from the field but only 32 percent (6-19) in the second half.

“When you’re winning as easily as we were, your substitution patterns change and it’s difficult to stay in a rhythm,” Allen said.

But it was on the defensive end that Allen said he found the most pleasure. Tabor limited Bethel to 28 percent shooting (14-50) from the field.

“I’m especially happy with our defense and I’m pleased with how we’re rebounding the basketball,” Allen said. “We’ve improved our rebounding significantly and it just makes a big difference because, defensively, we hold teams to poor shooting percentages almost every game.

“So if we can rebound the ball, we can be off on offense and still win the game soundly.”

The Bluejays forced 23 Bethel turnovers, which they converted into 24 points. Tabor went to the free line 32 times, hitting 25.

Sheena Walters led Bethel with 12 points as the Threshers fell to 3-24 and 1-17 to finish last in the KCAC.

“There’s a new season beginning now and we want to win the conference tournament,” Allen said. “We cut the nets down tonight and we’ll celebrate. But Monday, we’ll start getting ready for something else.”

Tabor’s six seniors were honored: Erica Hemmert, Jill Hein, Shannon Kroeker, Katie Tedder, Erica Dechant and Stephanie Stuber. Allen said they have had a profound impact on the Tabor basketball program.

“What a contribution they’ve made to Tabor College women’s basketball and I’m so proud of them,” Allen said. “They’re great people, great teammates and friends, and they’ve set an example for our younger players.”

Saint Mary-Combine the nation’s fourth-ranked team-playing for a national tournament seeding-with an opponent near the bottom of the KCAC standings and you’d think the results would be predictable.

You’d be right. Tabor demolished the overmatched Spires 96-56 Thursday in Leavenworth.

“I would call this one of the best offensive nights we’ve had, if not the best,” coach Rusty Allen said. “We bounced back very well (from Saturday’s narrow 81-78 win over Kansas Wesleyan) and had some goals for this game. I feel like we reached those goals.”

One goal the Bluejays rarely missed was the basketball goal. Tabor made 60 percent (33-55) of its field-goal attempts, including an astonishing 9-for-12 (75 percent) from behind the 3-point arc.

“You’re probably not always going to shoot that well on the road after taking a three-hour drive, but you also have to credit some of that to how well we executed our offense and passed the ball,” Allen said.

“We didn’t do those things against Wesleyan.”

After a relatively slow start, Tabor used a 20-3 run over the final seven minutes of the first half to open a 50-30 lead at halftime.

It only got worse in the final 20 minutes as the Bluejays dissected Saint Mary’s defense for a lead of as many as 44 points.

Emily Vogts led Tabor with 17 points but had plenty of backing. Erica Hemmert popped in 16, Erica Dechant 11 (3-for-3 from 3-point range) and Katie Fast (5-for-5 from the field) and Stacie Herman each added 10.

Dawn Walker was the Spires’ offense, scoring 20 of their 56 points.

“Hemmert had a great game (leading the team with four steals and four assists),” Allen said. “And Katie, Emily, Kirsten (Watson) and Erica (Dechant) all played really well.

“I just felt really good about how a lot of different people played.”

Tabor held a 45-23 rebounding advantage, led by Hemmert with eight.

“We wanted to block them out and make sure they didn’t get offensive rebounds,” Allen said. “I felt like we did that really well.”

Tabor made 21 of 23 free throws to just 14 of 23 for the Spires, who fell to 3-14 in conference play and 4-23 overall.

“Our challenge right now is to keep that edge and do those fundamental things well in practice so we don’t pick up bad habits for our games,” Allen said.

“We’re not just trying to win each game, we’re preparing for the national tournament so we need to keep that edge.”

Coming-The Bluejays will attempt to extend their winning streak and capture the post-season KCAC tournament title in the process.

“Last year, our players just didn’t take care of business like they should and I’m going to be curious to see how hungry they are,” Allen said. “I think they’re going to be really hungry for this.”

Tabor will host all its games, beginning with the Saint Mary/ McPherson winner at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Should Tabor continue to win, it will host games at 2 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Monday.

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