Pirates upset Pioneers for NWC title

by Sasha Siclait

The Whitworth women’s basketball team came home with a big sweep this weekend, winning the Northwest Conference tournament for the first time since 1995.

The Whitworth Pirates played a close game Thursday night on the Whitman Missionaries’ home court, but came through with a 55-54 win.

“ I feel like everyone stepped up in the way we needed them to,” junior forward Jamie Lyons said.  “Everyone did their part on and off the court and everyone showed up to win.”

Head coach Helen Higgs said Whitworth stepped it up defensively Thursday night, and secured 23 defensive rebounds in the contest. Multiple players also noted that defense was on point this weekend for the Bucs.

“I think our biggest improvement [from last weekend] was our energy. We were engaged and intense the whole time and everyone was very consistent in bringing energy,” Lyons said.

A key to the victory was Whitworth’s ability to execute its game plan.

“Our goal was to dictate the entire game and have high energy and I think we did that,” junior forward Kendra Lahue said. “I was really proud of Katara [Belton-Sharp]  and KC [McConnell] because they both had great defense on the post and some big shots near the end of the game[Thursday].”

Sophomore forward Katara Belton-Sharp had nine points and four rebounds, and freshman guard KC McConnell had two rebounds and seven points. Senior guard Emily Travis also continued to step it up with 13 points for the Bucs.

At the end of the first half, Whitman and Whitworth were tied 24-24. They remained neck and neck until the end of the game. Whitworth opened the second half with a 3-pointer by Lahue. Whitman countered and set the tone for  the second half in which neither team could capture a significant lead.

A 3-pointer by Travis with just under three minutes remaining gave Whitworth a lead it would not surrender at 52-50. A bucket by McConnell doubled the lead, and the Pirates held on down the stretch. Whitman came within two points of tying the contest, but Whitman’s Heather Johns converted only one of two free throws at the line with 7 seconds left and the Bucs held on for the one-point victory.

“I felt like the team was really driven and focused,” Higgs said. I had the expectation that we could win and I’m really glad that we did.”

Multiple players commented on the fact that Saturday night the Bucs started off with high energy and were able to maintain the same intensity for the full 40 minutes.

Saturday night the stakes were high as the Whitworth Pirates took on the Lewis & Clark Pioneers, who were ranked No. 8 nationally and the top seed in the NWC tournament. Playing for the NWC championship, Whitworth came prepared to play on the Pioneers’ home court and left with a 76-61 victory.

“Beforehand we knew they [Lewis & Clark] were good and a nationally ranked team, but we had already beat four nationally ranked teams before Lewis & Clark,” senior guard Lauren Picha said. “We were excited and prepared to play them.”

Whitworth started off the game with a foul and was down by three within the first 15 seconds. Johnson responded with an offensive rebound, a lay-in and then a block on the other end of the floor. A steal and pair of free throws by Travis helped the Pirates regain the lead before the 18-minute mark.

It was a close first half for both teams, neither gained a considerable lead, but the Pirates managed to build a six-point lead by the end of the first half, leaving the score 35-29.

“I feel like throughout the 40 minutes we dictated the game,” Lyons said. “When they came back we stepped up and got things done.”

Whitworth held strong the second half, and never allowed the Pioneers to take the lead for the remainder of the game. Travis had a solid performance once again, leading the team with 20 points.

“We had great teamwork, everyone contributed every time we got on the court,” Travis said. “Katara came off the bench scoring 19 points and that was a huge game changer for us.”

It was a great night for Belton-Sharp, who also played good defense and tallied two assists and three rebounds.

The Bucs took off, leading by 11 points three minutes into the second half with a 3-pointer by Travis.

“We shot well from the three point and the mini arc inside the key,” Picha said. “We did really well on rebounding and boxing out.”

Whitworth was impressive with 3-pointers for the second half, shooting 71.4 percent (5-7) from 3-point range in the second half. Whitworth also shot exceptionally well from the field during both halves for an overall average of 52.6 percent.

“It was the best feeling ever to beat Lewis & Clark and to do it on their home court was an added bonus,” Travis said.

Many of the Whitworth players commented that this was a great end to the regular season and a big accomplishment for the team.

“It was unreal, amazing, and all our hard work had paid off,” Lyons said.

The win guarantees the Pirates a spot in the NCAA Division III tournament.

Contact Sasha Siclait at ssiclait16@my.whitworth.edu

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