Tabor men down Bethany 92-82

Despite deficits of 10-15 and 60-67, the Bluejay men made short work of the Swedes, who were picked five places ahead of the Bluejays in preseason polls, winning 92-82. The Tabor women led by as much as 7 points in the first half, but were unable to hold off the Swedes at the end, dropping their conference opener 67-62. It was a doubly tough loss, as Erin Runge sustained a shoulder injury late in her return to the starting lineup.

Runge started the game in a higher gear than most of her competition, scoring Tabor's first five points?all foul shots?and blocking a shot in the first 3:47 of action. Tabor trailed by an 11-6 margin 4:30 into the game, but rallied back to knot it at 11. Brittany Roth scored consecutive baskets during the 6-0 run, including a layup thrown in as the shot clock buzzer sounded. Runge set up the 11-11 score with a sparkling pass.

On the next trip, Joanna Pyle tied it at 13-all with a finely finished layup off a feed from Herman. Herman drilled a 3-pointer on Tabor's next possession, giving the Bluejays a lead that multiplied into a 35-28 halftime advantage. After the half, Bethany guards Roni Whitman, Rachelle Gaylord and Hope Stieben sparked a 7-0 run that tied the game 35-35 only 1:48 into the period.

Stieben made a free throw for a 40-35 lead at 17:14, and Tabor remained scoreless in the frame until Herman buried a 3-point shot assisted by Jordan Crosson at 14:56.

A 7-2 Bethany run ensued, and the Jays bounced back with a 7-0 run of their own. Tabor kept up the pressure, pulling within a point on a pair of Runge free throws at 9:01. Bethany scored the next 5 points, making it 52-46 with 7:40 to play.

Tabor again slashed the deficit to a single point, and it was Runge at the line again to make it 56-55 with 3:49 left.

Freshman winger Cathy Wade then came up with the biggest points of the night, burying consecutive 3-pointers with Runge in her face to make it 62-55 with 2:58 to go. But the biggest blow for Tabor came with 33 seconds to go, when Runge was knocked down while battling for an offensive rebound under the Tabor basket. Kirsten Watson was whistled for a personal foul in transition, after which Herman notched another 3-pointer to make the final score 67-62.

?The men's game began with Tabor looking out of sync at both ends of the floor.

"We installed most of a new system this week, and the guys struggled with it at first," coach Micah Ratzlaff said. "But we became more comfortable with it as the game went on, and we were able to pull out the win."

Tabor led 36-33 on the strength of three free throws by Jeff Hussong less than a minute before intermission. Hussong played only 2:31, but was very efficient in his first varsity action.? Aaron Whitelaw assisted on four baskets during the first half, setting up Zach Vanselow and Orson Thomas for two scores apiece. Two of those assists came during a 10-2 run that spanned 2:07 and turned a 17-12 deficit into a 20-17 advantage with 10:14 to play.

The teams rode a manic rollercoaster for the remainder of the half, as six ties and nine lead changes followed before intermission.

Neither team was able to establish a run until the Swedes put together a 10-4 series midway through the second half. Then Whitelaw took over, scoring four straight points at the 8-minute mark and converting consecutive 3-point plays at 6:15 and 5:49.

With 10 points in 3:03 of game action, Whitelaw dug the Bluejays out of a 67-62 hole and carried them to a 74-69 lead. But Thomas might have made the bigger plays, grabbing key rebounds at each end of the court to sustain the run?and his ferocity on the offensive glass dialed the home crowd to its highest volume when, after he missed a foul shot, he somehow plucked the rebound out of the air and laid it in before any Swede defender could react to his presence in the lane.? The put-back made it 67-67, and Whitelaw's 3-point plays immediately put the Bluejays on the better end of the 19th lead change of the night.

There would not be a 20th, as the Bluejays ran their advantage to 10 points, 81-71, on a 3-pointer drained by Caleb Good with 3:14 left. Tabor pushed it to 11 when Mike Stoecker sank a pair of foul shots with 2:32 to go.

Bethany stayed close, cutting the lead down to 85-81 with eight straight free throws during a sequence of unusual foul calls, but Whitelaw and Kyle de Blonk iced it at the free throw line.

Whitelaw totaled 28 points, Thomas scored 15 and Stoecker scored 10. Whitelaw added 7 assists and 5 steals, and Thomas grabbed 8 rebounds. As a team, Tabor shot 29 of 40 at the foul line.

Tabor travels to McPherson Saturday, with the women slated to play at 5 p.m. and the men to follow at 7 p.m.

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