WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A late comeback fell just short as the No. 22 Williams women's basketball team narrowly lost the Williams Holiday Classic to Bridgewater State University 61-60 on Saturday afternoon. The loss was the Ephs' first of the season and drops them to 5-1, while the Bears improved to the same record with their second victory in 24 hours.
"They’re a very good team," said Williams coach Pat Manning on Bridgewater State, who picked up their third straight win.
Bridgewater State took the early initiative and came out firing. Elisha Homich hit a long three-pointer to get things rolling for the Bears. That kicked off an opening run that propelled the Bears to quick 11-4 lead while the Ephs struggled from the field and made only two of their first nine shots.
Williams quickly fought back, however. After Katie Litman found Claire Baecher with a perfectly placed lob to cut the deficit to one, Grace Rehnquist came off the bench to drain a pair of longs threes to put the Ephs up by 16-13 with 10 minutes to go.
That was the largest lead either team would enjoy for the remainder of the period, as the teams spent the rest of the half trading buckets courtesy of solid individual performances on both sides. Rachel Kusz’s steal-and-score from Rehnquist energized the Bear bench, while Ellen Cook's buzzer-beating jumper at the end of the half pushed the Eph lead back out to three and brought the crowd to its feet.
While Williams immediately extended its lead after the break thanks to a three-point play from Danny Rainer that made it 33-27, the Bears responded by launching a 19-3 run that saw contributions from all quarters. A Jenna Williamson three after a long bout of possession for the Bears made it 40-36, followed by a beautiful underhanded layup from Homich, who scored 17 points and was named tournament MVP, were two of the many highlights for Bridgewater State.
"They played great defense, had a lot of intensity and generally outworked us," said Manning. "I give them a lot of credit."
The Ephs refused to go quietly, however, and slowly but surely began to nail back the deficit. A nifty give-and-go between Cook and Rainer left the former open to knock down a three to make it 49-43 with 9:14 to go. They then cut the new deficit in half 90 seconds later, when Baecher collected a defensive rebound and shoveled pass to Jennie Harding, who hustled up court and passed back to Baecher, who calmly banked one in off the glass from downtown to cut the Bear lead to 49-46.
From that point on, the game was a taut and tense affair, as the Bears failed to extend their lead beyond five points and the Ephs worked their way closer but struggled to even up the score. Another Cook three from well beyond the arc brought them to within 51-49 with 4:27 to go, only to see Michaela Cosby respond with a pair of clutch free throws.
On the Ephs’ next trip down the court, Harding fed Cook behind the arc once more; this time, though, Cook threw an excellent head fake and drove to the hoop to make it 53-51 with 3:09 to go, only to see Megan Boutilette answer back with a layup for two of her 12 points.
With under a minute go, Homich made a pair of clutch free throws to make the score 59-55 and make the Bears a sensational 14-of-15 from the line to that point in the contest. But the Ephs responded with their best play of the day, as Harding threw a lob near the rim for Baecher, who caught and shot off the backboard while in midair to trim the deficit in half once more.
Cosby took over at that point, brilliantly dribbling away the Bears' next possession before knifing through the lane to drain a layup and give Bridgewater State a seemingly insurmountable 61-57 lead with 12 seconds remaining. Still, the Ephs refused to concede defeat as Baecher, who led all scorers with 21 points, drained another three to make it 61-60 with three seconds to play. Unfortunately for the Ephs, it proved to be too little too late: after the requisite foul and missed free throw, Harding failed to completely corral the rebound as time expired.
Still, Manning was able to look on the bright side.
"We were down 10 and fought like crazy to get back into it," Manning said. "Claire and Ellen were key down the stretch. We scored enough to win, the defense just wasn't as sharp as it has been."
The Bears will next travel to face Western Connecticut on Wednesday at 7 p.m., while the Ephs will look to rebound at home against Skidmore on Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m., a circumstance that pleases Manning.
"Anytime you have a loss like this, you want to get back out there and go again. We're looking forward to Tuesday," said Manning.