Whitman women lose nail-biter to Whitworth

Bailey Arango

The Whitman College women’s basketball team had its post-season aspirations dashed at home the night of Tuesday, Feb. 16, as the Whitworth University Pirates held on for a 71-69 victory and clinched the fourth and final Northwest Conference playoff position. The last-minute, heartbreaking loss was iconic of the Missionaries’ 2009-2010 season.

After the loss, Whitman, whose season concludes on the road against 6-17 Linfield on Friday, Feb. 19, stand poised to finish a paltry 7-9, a number hardly indicative of the team’s gritty performance in the second half of a season defined by injuries and last-minute losses.

Head Coach Michelle Ferenz emphasized the toll injuries took on the Missionaries this season.

“Losing [juniors] Anna Forge and Jenele Peterson for the season was huge blow,” said Ferenz. “Both were playing really well when they got hurt. Another injury that hurt us was [sophomore]  Jennifer Keyes’ ankle injury. It took us time to adjust, and [as a result] we lost some close games.”

Six of Whitman’s nine conference losses were by four points or less. The latest came at the hands of a highly-touted 17th-ranked University of Puget Sound. Saturday, Feb. 13, the Loggers defeated the Whitman women 74-70 thanks to an impressive 18-3 run to open the second half, which inflated a two-point Logger lead to 17.

While the Missionaries fought back and made it close in the end, Ferenz said the Loggers’ sudden second half offensive explosion was simply insurmountable.

”We just couldn’t recover from that,” Ferenz said. “We played very well defensively, except for that one stretch; we battled back, but just ran out of time.”

Demonstrative of the determination the Missionaries displayed in winning six of their last eight conference games: fighting their way back into playoff contention despite a dismal 1-7 start: Whitman went down swinging Tuesday night.

Missionary seniors Dawna Mello, Michelle Krall and Hilary White led the charge in the last home game of their Whitman careers. Mello contributed seven points and three crucial assists, while none of Michelle Krall’s 10 points were larger than her two free-throws which put Whitman within a basket, with two seconds remaining.

However, on a night fraught with emotion on both sides of the court, no player held a candle to White, whose 25-point, eight-rebound highlight reel game defined Whitman’s performance from buzzer to buzzer. Already the current NWC player of the week following a weekend that saw her average 22 points in games against Pacific Lutheran University and the University of Puget Sound, White somehow outdid herself against Whitworth.

From her back-to-back three point shots to close out the first half, to her dramatic three which gave Whitman their last lead of the game, White played with the air of an athlete carrying a team and its entire season on her shoulders.

While White will never play another collegiate game in Sherwood, she left on a high note. Her 25 points Tuesday cemented her position as Whitman’s 14th all-time leading scorer with 953 career points.

Meanwhile first-year Kelly Peterson: whose last-second steal of the Pirates’ inbounding pass following Krall’s free throws gave Whitman one last shot: sees a bright future ahead on the Whitman team.

“All the injuries have meant that the underclassmen have really found their role on the team,” Peterson said.

Ferenz lauded her first-year players efforts this season.

“[First-year students] Mary Madden, Kelly Peterson and Emilie Gilbert have played really well in a tough situation,” Ferenz said, adding that she is “proud of the way they have stepped up.”

Peterson, Gilbert and Madden: who scored her first collegiate double-double on Saturday, Feb. 13: are three of nine Missionaries expected to return next season, including four incoming seniors, placing Whitman in position to return strong for the 2010-11 season.