MISHAWAKA, Ind. - In a game where the stakes were high, it was the No. 2-seeded Pilots of Bethel College who came out ahead 60-47 over the No. 3-seeded Foresters Friday night at Wiekamp Athletics Center Friday night in semifinal action of the MCC tourney.
Bethel, a team known to live or die by the 3-pointer, lived by it in the first twenty minutes and then cruised through the second half to punch their ticket to the NAIA National Tournament. Leading the charge was the MCC’s second leader scorer Laura Johnson who went 4-for-6 from long range to finish the half with 16 points. The Pilots shot better behind the arc then inside it in the opening period. They knocked down six of their twelve attempts for 50.0% while only going 8-for-22 for 36.4% from two-point land.
It was a case of nerves for both teams as the first two minutes came and went without a score before Johnson finally drilled her first long bomb. Allison Greene then took over by scoring seven of her nine first half points to give HU what would prove to be their largest lead of the night at 7-3 by the 16:12 mark.
The next ten minutes played out more like a ping pong match as it featured four ties and seven lead changes. With eight minutes left in the half and the score knotted at 18-18, things abruptly went south for the Foresters. Three consecutive turnovers sent HU into a tail-spin that they never quite recovered from. They finished the half 2-for-10 from the field, committed three more turnovers and missed the front end of two 1-and-1s to find themselves heading into break in a 14-point hole of 36-22.
After regrouping in the locker room, the Foresters came out with new life as Pazia Speed hit back-to-back threes to spur a 14-5 run that pulled HU within five at 41-36 with just over 12 minutes on the clock. It looked like they were on their way to mounting a fast and furious comeback but the Pilots weathered the Forester storm to hold their visitors at arm’s length.
HU pulled within six on three different occasions over the next seven minutes to stay within striking distance but they would get no closer as the Pilots closed out the game on a 11-4 run to earn a spot in the championship game.
Greene finished with 13 points to pace HU while Speed and Liesl Davenport scored 12 and ten points respectively. Kelsey Green added six points and pulled down a game-high ten boards.
Johnson topped all scorers with 19 points. Sarah Clark came off the bench to add 12 points.
With this loss, the Foresters (20-10), currently ranked 27th, now lie in wait until Wednesday to see if they receive one of the 11 at-large bids to the National Tournament held in Sioux City, Iowa on March 7-13.
With this win, the Pilots advance to the championship game of the conference tourney on Monday to play Indiana Wesleyan. But more importantly, they have already locked in a spot at the NAIA National Tournament. IWU received the MCC’s first automatic bid to the big dance as the MCC regular season champs and as it’s set up, Bethel, win or lose Monday night, will receive the second automatic bid. The league’s second automatic bid goes to the MCC tourney champs so even if the Wildcats win, the Pilots receive the bid as the runner-up.