Whitman Sports Blog: Seniors’ final efforts not enough as Whit teams fall in semis

Pamela London

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Two of the most successful seasons in the history of Whitman basketball came to an abrupt end Thursday night in the opening round of the Northwest Conference tournament.

Both the men’s and the women’s teams finished the season in third place and hit the road to open up tournament play. Both teams saw their star seniors cap their Whitman careers with big nights.

And both teams also saw big halftime deficits turn around with second half runs that eventually stalled out before trailing at the final buzzer.

Men: Whitman 62, UPS 79

The Whitman men finished 11-5 in conference, beat rival Whitworth University for the first time in over a quarter century and won five of their final seven games going into the conference tournament. But the best statistics in the world cannot play the game for you and the Missionaries learned that the hard way, falling by 17 points to the second-seeded Loggers in Tacoma, Wash.

The loss also completed a season sweep of three meetings for UPS over Whitman. While the Missionaries lost to the Loggers by a combined seven points in the first two meetings –– including an agonizing two-point defeat at home late in the season –– UPS was able to pull away from every Whitman run the third time around.

“There’s no doubt about it [that UPS had our number],” said coach Eric Bridgeland. “UPS seemed to have the blueprint on how to get by us.”

Whitman and UPS finished the season with identical 11-5 conference records but the Loggers won the tiebreaker by virtue of their two wins over the Missionaries. Instead of playing in the friendly confines of Sherwood Center surrounded by an electric and raucous crowd of Whitties, the team had to travel across the state and play in a hostile environment.

Senior David Michaels, the NWC Player of the Year, led the Missionaries with 28 points in 34 minutes before fouling out with just over three minutes to play. The 6′ 7″ forward shot 50 percent from the field and went 12-14 from the free throw line while also contributing two rebounds, one block and one steal.

Junior Drew Raher helped the team’s cause on the glass in finishing with nine rebounds but failed to score in 18 minutes of action.

Michaels hardly got any help in the scoring category: no other Missionary finished with more than seven points.

Sophomore Josh Duckworth scored seven points on 3-6 shooting in 24 minutes after sitting out the season finale against Willamette University (foot).

Michaels, Brandon Shaw, J.P. Alvarez and D.J. Wright all saw action in their final game wearing a Whitman jersey. Shaw scored five points on only 1-9 shooting. Neither Alvarez nor Wright got into the scoring column.

Even though Thursday’s game was a loss, Bridgeland emphasized that the defeat still demonstrated his team’s willingness to battle adversity.

“What I am most proud of [this season] is our team’s ability to fight through adversity,” said Bridgeland. “We got hit left and right with injuries and really didn’t have a consistent roster the whole year. Even going into the last game…Josh [Duckworth] had a bad foot and Ignas [Pavilonis] had been battling sickness all week.”

UPS fell to Whitworth 85-71 in the NWC conference championship game Saturday night. The seventh ranked Pirates will face McMurray University (Abilene, Texas) this weekend in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Notes and quotes

  • UPS dominated Whitman on the boards, winning the rebound battle 51-38.
  • Hustle stats: Whitman had only four assists on 17 made field goals and also committed 11 turnovers, while UPS dished out 12 assists as a team on 25 field goals. The Loggers did commit 17 turnovers but also had five blocks and hit twice as many three-pointers (eight) as Whitman (four).

Bridgeland on how his game plan differed for Whitman’s third matchup with UPS: “Our game plan differed in that we were going to go inside a lot more vs. their zone. We did an excellent job of this throughout the game. We fouled out their two centers and got to the line 34 times.”

Bridgeland on his seniors: “This senior class came in with our coaching staff. We truly, literally, arrived together. When they arrived here, Whitman had been consistently in the bottom third of the conference.  Our seniors leave having left their mark on the wall with the two best seasons in the past 25 years.”

Bridgeland on Michaels, the NWC Player of the Year: “David is a true product of team athletics. Team athletics teaches one how to respond to adversity, manage their time, how to work together in a group, to assume a different role each year, to bond with others to achieve collectively what one can’t achieve alone. David is a product of this. He has earned and deserves all accolades he receives. There is no question, David took his team as far as it could go – for them.”

Michaels on the team’s mindset going against UPS for a third time: “Our mindset was very simple, we had to be the aggressor during the game because we got out-hustled in our last game against them.”

Michaels on the team’s difficulty with UPS: “[I] don’t really know what it was about them, for some reason they just had our number. And we seemed to struggle offensively against them as a team.”

Michaels on his fellow seniors: “Our seniors are great, this group really showed what hard work and commitment can do for a program. I am very proud to be a part of this special group of guys and it’s been a special four years.”

Women: Whitman 64, Lewis & Clark 69

Once the calendar turned to 2012, it seemed as though the Whitman women would never lose, winning 13 of their 15 games this calendar year including all 12 of their conference wins to finish 12-4 in the NWC.

This remarkable run of wins came to an end Thursday, February 23 in Portland, Ore., to the second-seeded and nationally eighth-ranked Pioneers.

Trailing 33-21 at halftime, Whitman fought back with a series of runs to eventually make it a one-possession game with 19 seconds to play. On the Pioneers’ next possession, sophomore Tiffani Traver blocked the shot but the ball went out of bounds off the Missionaries to stay with Lewis & Clark. The Pioneers sealed the deal with two free throws.

After scoring only eight points in the first half, senior Jenele Peterson put her team on her back one final time, torching the Pioneers for 26 second-half points to give her a career-best 34 for the game.

“We just didn’t play as well offensively as we needed to in the first half,” said coach Michelle Ferenz. “But we came back and played well offensively in the second. Jenele Peterson took over. They could not guard her and she did a great job scoring or getting it to her teammates.”

Scoring Whitman’s last 13 points, Peterson almost brought the Missionaries all the way back from 15 down early in the second half. Her final points in a Whitman jersey came on a jumper with 19 seconds remaining to cut the Pioneer lead to 67-64.

Peterson’s 34 points came on 14-19 shooting with five rebounds, two assists and two steals while also turning the ball over seven times in 40 minutes. No other Missionaries scored double figures.

Junior Kelly Peterson (no relation to Jenele) contributed nine points and six rebounds. Sophomore Sarah Anderegg and junior Mary Madden each added six points.

“I feel like everybody played as hard as they could have,” said Madden. “We really left it all out on the floor. It was unfortunate that we did not shoot as well as we normally do in the first half and that Lewis & Clark was on fire. Getting behind by as much as we did was hard to come back from. The fact that we were able to get within three really shows our determination as a team.”

Jenele Peterson, Anna Forge and Jenn Keyes all played their final games as Missionaries. Keyes scored five points on only 2-7 shooting. Forge added three rebounds but did not figure in the scoring column.

Lewis & Clark went on to fall to third-ranked George Fox University 85-69 on Saturday night. The Bruins are assured of an NCAA tournament berth, while the Pioneers should get a spot in the field after finishing the season with only two losses and ranked eighth nationally.

Whitman finished one of the best seasons in school history at 12-4 in conference play, 16-10 overall.

Notes and quotes:

  • Whitman outscored Lewis & Clark by seven points from the floor but the Pioneers hit 20-24 free throws while the Missionaries were 8-9.
  • Lewis & Clark finished with a huge advantage on the glass, outrebounding Whitman 41-27 including 20 offensive rebounds.
  • Jenele Peterson’s career-high 34 points gives her 1,239 for her career, good enough for sixth on the all-time Missionary scoring list. She also finishes in second place on the career assists list.
  • The Missionary senior class (Peterson, Forge and Keyes) has been part of three NWC playoff teams during their Whitman careers.

Ferenz looking back on the season: “I am very pleased with the season overall.  This team really improved and reached their potential. We played the toughest schedule we have ever played and eight of our 10 losses were to teams that were ranked in the top 20 nationally in their respective division.  Our only Division III losses were to top 10 schools.”

Ferenz on her three seniors: “A big part of the reason we had such a good season is we had three great seniors who really committed themselves to leading this team.  Jenn Keyes, Anna Forge and Jenele Peterson were great examples of hard work and dedication and their commitment to improvement really set the tone for this season.  We will miss them next year.”

Madden on what stands out about the season and the seniors: We played really well as a unit. Sure, individuals played well, but what really stuck out about this game [against Lewis & Clark] and this season was everybody’s willingness to do anything to win, even if that meant not scoring individually. We all played hard for each other. The seniors really instilled that in us this year and I hope to continue that next season.”

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