Whitman women extend win streak to three

Bailey Arango

Photo Credit : Bullion

The Whitman women’s basketball team overcame a six-point halftime deficit and held off a late charge from Lewis and Clark College to win a crucial home game at Sherwood Center Friday, Jan. 29. Despite a first half that saw the visiting Pioneers put together an 11-0 run and compile a six-point lead to close the period, the Missionaries took the lead early in the second half and held on to win 61-56.

The Missionaries, just one win removed from a five-game losing streak, rode strong performances from upperclassmen and first-year students alike to knock off a talented Lewis and Clark team and improve their Northwest Conference record to 3-6. The Pioneers, who entered the contest alone in second-place in the NWC and leading the conference in rebounding and rebounding margin, were out-rebounded by the Missionaries 44-29. With the win Whitman evened the season series with Lewis and Clark avenging an early season road loss, which saw the Pioneers dominate the Missionaries 53-38.

Head Coach Michelle Ferenz was optimistic about the Missionaries ability to adjust their style of play in their second match-up with the Pioneers.

“We changed our whole defensive game plan this time around,” said Ferenz. “We did a much better job defending their inside game and made them shoot from the perimeter. They struggle from long range, and we did a much better job on the boards. Lewis and Clark leads the conference in rebounding, so to beat them on the boards is a great effort.”

Megan Spence, Lewis and Clark’s 6-foot center and leading rebounder, was held to just five boards, while Whitman senior Hilary White put together her first double-double of the season, adding 14 points to her game-high 13 rebounds. White, who averages just over 12 points a game and whose two three-pointers per game is second in the Northwest Conference, kept the Missionaries in the game at both ends of the floor. Eleven of White’s 13 rebounds came on the defensive side of the ball, and her three free-throws in the game’s final minutes cemented Whitman’s victory.

Despite being trounced 44-29 in the rebounding column, the Pioneers stayed with Whitman throughout. Although the Missionaries took the lead for good with nine minutes left, Lewis and Clark surged back to tie the game at 38, 40, 42 and 44.

“The game was back and forth for the whole time,” Ferenz said. “I think a key for us was [junior] Jessica Brice in the first half. We were really struggling to score, and Jess grabbed three offensive rebounds putting two back in for scores to give us a real lift. Otherwise, we would have been down double digits at the half.”

When dominant junior center Rebecca Sexton fouled out midway through the second half, first-year Kelly Peterson filled the void in the paint.

“I was just trying to be aggressive, and I was looking for my shots every time down the floor,” said Peterson, whose 16 points throughout were far overshadowed by the six points she scored in the final two minutes. “We really needed to win on Friday: this was a really pivotal game for us.”

Peterson is one of three Whitman first-years to make substantial contributions this season.

“Mary Madden, Kelly Peterson and Emilie Gilbert have played really well in a tough situation. I am really proud of the way they have stepped up and helped us despite being first year players,” Ferenz said after Friday’s game.

As Madden, Peterson’s roommate, put it, this season has been a decidedly comfortable transition.

“Since all three of us played so much in high school, this year has really been a smooth transition back into playing for us. We’ve been able to get into roles we’re already familiar with,” she said.

Madden’s three offensive rebounds in the second half proved to be crucial, and Gilbert’s put-back of a White miss to close out the half sent the Missionaries into the locker room on a positive note.

Decimated by injuries, the Missionaries entered Friday’s game needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

“We just have to take it one game at a time,” Ferenz said.

While losing junior guards Anna Forge and Jenele Peterson for the season was “a huge blow,” Ferenz has been impressed by her team’s ability to play well together under difficult circumstances, a sentiment echoed by Madden.

“[The injuries] hurt our offensive flow at first, but we’ve had really good togetherness in the last few games.”

Ferenz’s team showed no signs of fatigue in their Saturday night game, in which they routed conference cellar-dweller Willamette 67-35. The win brought the Missionaries’ conference record to 4-6 and placed them two games out fourth-place and a playoff berth. Whitman will play two crucial road games this coming weekend. Friday, Feb. 5, they will travel to Newberg, Ore. for a showdown with defending Division III National Champion George Fox University followed by a match up with struggling Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore. on Saturday.

Whitman players and coaches recognize the importance of each game going forward as the try to make up ground in the conference standings.

“We can’t afford to miss more than one more game, and we can beat both George Fox and Pacific,” Madden said.

With six NWC games left the Missionaries have overcome catastrophic injuries and a series of close losses to place themselves in position to make a late season run at the playoffs. However, Ferenz is keeping their recent success in perspective.

“We just have to keep focused on getting better each day, each game. If we do that, things will take care of themselves.”