Women's basketball takes conference championship

The Baker women's basketball players pose for a photo with their Heart championship banner after defeating Benedictine 64-51. The team won its first-ever Heart Conference Tournament title along with the regular-season championship.

The Baker women's basketball players pose for a photo with their Heart championship banner after defeating Benedictine 64-51. The team won its first-ever Heart Conference Tournament title along with the regular-season championship. Image by Chad Phillips.

The Baker women’s basketball team captured the Heart of America Athletic Conference tournament championship for the first time Monday by defeating Benedictine College 64-51 in the Collins Center.

This marks the 16th-straight victory for the Wildcats, as they will head into the NAIA National Championship Tournament with a 29-4 record, with both the Heart regular-season and tournament titles under their belts.

The Baker defense was stingy to start the game, holding the Ravens to just nine points, but scoring just 13 of their own. The Ravens' offense came alive in the second quarter, scoring 21 points. The final three Benedictine points came on a 3-pointer with six seconds left in the first half, giving the Ravens their first lead of the game, a 30-28 advantage they held into halftime.

Senior Sydney Buchel provided offense for a Wildcat team in desperate need of it in the first three quarters, scoring 10 points heading into the fourth quarter. She finished with 16 for the game and added a team-leading six rebounds.

The largest lead the Ravens held over Baker came with 1:52 left in the third, when a free throw had the Ravens up 39-34. The Wildcats finished off the quarter with a 4-0 run, and they were not finished there. After ending the third quarter down 39-38, the Wildcats went on a quick 12-0 run to take a 50-39 lead, their largest of the game up to that point.

The Ravens’ offense was held in check, shooting just 31 percent from the field for the game. The Wildcats also made it difficult for the Ravens to move the ball, as Benedictine finished with just one assist for the game. Buchel and junior Courtney Hoag anchored the interior defense with two blocks each. Senior Mackenzie Cook and sophomore Anna Hignight each added one of their own.

Senior Kelsey Larson played a big role in the fourth quarter for the Wildcats, scoring 10 of her 17 points in the final 10 minutes. She led the team in scoring for the game despite being shut out in the first half.

Sydnie Hanson, after leading the team in scoring through the first two games of the tournament, played a complete game, scoring nine points and adding five assists and three rebounds. Her basket with 4:43 left in the game gave the Wildcats their largest lead at 15 points.

Benedictine was adept at drawing fouls, getting 22 free-throw attempts in the game and making 18. Both Buchel and Cook found themselves in foul trouble, Cook fouling out with 2:38 left in the game. Buchel was called for her fourth foul early in the fourth quarter but managed to stay in the game.

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