Big game jitters; overwhelmed by two thousand plus screaming fans; fatigue.
For whatever reason, Benedictine women’s basketball started sluggishly. The slow start doomed their national tournament championship as they went down 23-7 in the first quarter to rival Baker before succumbing 50-34.
Baker drew first blood with an Ericka Simpson 3-pointer – the first of her career high 24 points. Before Benedictine knew it, the Wildcats were up 12-3 and the orange clad half of the 2,160 in attendance were roaring.
“I don’t know if I have ever played in a game that was that loud; that intense,” said Benedictine senior Jordan Kramer. “It was a little overwhelming at first and I think that showed.”
The Wildcats started the first quarter 4 of 4 from beyond the arc, amassing a 17-3 lead midway through the first.
“I think having a young team, there was a lot of jitters coming out of the get go,” said Benedictine senior Chayla Rutledge. “That first quarter they just got a lot of open looks that we normally wouldn’t give them.”
By quarters end, the Wildcats held a 23-7 lead, shooting 9 of 14 from the field.
“They came out on fire,” said Benedictine head coach Chad Folsom. “We were kind of on our heels defensively and not as sharp as we needed to be. They were attacking us and knocking down shots.”
Baker had done this before to the Lady Ravens. In the teams first meeting on January 20th in Baldwin City, the Wildcats went 11 of 20 from three and finished 25 of 49 from the field winning 65-48.
In the semifinals match-up Baker was faired similarly from the floor finishing 21 of 52.
“You are very familiar with what they are doing and they are very familiar with what you are doing,” Folsom said on matching up with a team Benedictine had seen twice already. “I think sometimes when you see opponents here for the first time, its more advantageous because they don’t know what you are doing.”
Benedictine, after three games of knock-down shooting, couldn’t make a shot. Junior Ali Taff was the team’s saving grace in the first quarter, scoring five of the seven first quarter points.
“To go down 16 in the first quarter, that’s hard to overcome,” Folsom said. “We ended up playing them even the next three quarters, but just couldn’t get ourselves out of that hole.”
Benedictine tried to claw their way back into the game, but an 18 percent shooting effort in the first half, including a 1 of 6 efforts from three, limited the ground they could make up.
By the end of the first half, Baker held a 36-15 lead.
Coming out of the break, the Lady Ravens cranked up the defensive pressure limiting Baker to just six third quarter points. The problem for Benedictine was that they only scored six points themselves.
“They do a pretty good job of taking away the three,” Folsom said. “We needed to attack the basket like we did in the second half.”
The Lady Ravens led the nation in made 3-pointers and were fourth in made 3-pointers per game with 8.2. They made 4 of 14.
Benedictine outscored Baker 13-8 in the final frame, but it was too little too late. Taff was the team’s leading scorer with 12 points. Rutledge, who is the program’s second leading scorer, was again held scoreless.
“(Rutledge) has been the heart and soul on the offense all of her career,” Folsom said. “You have a few games like that. Unfortunately, it happened at the end here.”
The Lady Ravens end their season with a 29-7 record and dropping the season series with Baker 1-2.
“Maybe that game didn’t turn out the way we wanted to, but this is definitely an amazing experience,” Rutledge said. “I am not disappointed in our season at all. I have no regrets. I think we did great things this year and I am extremely happy with how our season turned out.”
Benedictine advanced to the program’s first round of 8 and national semifinals.
“There is nothing disappointing in being one of the final four teams standing,” Kramer said. “Its an accomplishment in itself.”
Rutledge and Kramer are the only two members that won’t be returning to next year’s team due to graduation.
“Theres no doubt we left our hearts out there,” Taff said. “We’ve been a team all year. I have never been on a team like this. Its really hard to see it end.”