BRUNSWICK, Maine — Whe Bowdoin women's basketball team feted Kaitlin Donahoe, its only player set to graduate this spring, as part of the team's annual Senior Day on Saturday. Donahoe, the New England Small College Athletic Conference's second-best scorer, rose to the occasion and notched 22 points to pace her team.
But the Bears forgot about another senior, one who grew up minutes from Brunswick's Morrell Gymnasium -- Claire Baecher.
Playing with a large contingent of friends and family on hand to cheer her on, the Williams forward turned in one of her best games of the season to help the Ephs overcome miss-laden first half and down the Polar Bears, 50-42.
"Claire really carried us," said Manning of the game's undisputed star, who posted a season-high 22 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. "This was such a great game for her and it's her hometown. I was just really happy that she got to have such an amazing performance."
With the win, the Ephs snapped a 12-game losing streak at Bowdoin that dated back to 1999 and included five NESCAC tournament setbacks, the most recent of which came in 2009. The game was also the lowest-scoring the two teams have played since 1995, the first year for which such records are available.
"It's huge," said Manning, who particularly noted how much the win meant to this year's senior class, which also won its first game at Colby last night. "That was something that [the seniors] talked about even in the beginning of the season, how key this weekend was going to be."
The first half was a hard-fought and at times excruciatingly low-scoring affair. The two teams combined to go just 4-28 from the field over the game’s first eight minutes, with each side claiming two baskets of its own. Donahoe had both of Bowdoin's, as the Polar Bears' only senior started off her day by notching the game's first five points on a driving layup and a pull-up three.
Over four minutes passed from the game's opening tip before the Ephs finally got on the board thanks to a tough Ellen Cook floater from just inside the foul line. The basket seemed to provide some small spark for the Ephs, who cut the deficit to one on their next trip up the court when Baecher snuck in behind the defense and laid in a deft feed from Danny Rainer with 15:03 to play in the period.
After a lengthy scoring drought peppered with sloppy and often unforced turnovers from both teams, the Ephs completed their mini-run when Cook took a handoff from Jennie Harding, stepped on the 3-point line and fired home a jumper to make it 6-5 with 11:48 to play. But Bowdoin's Selena Lorrey answered back with a 3-pointer on the Bears' next trip up the court, one that Rainer then countered with a near-baseline jumper with just under 10 minutes to go, leaving the score at an astonishingly low 8-8 heading into a Bowdoin timeout.
Afterward, Manning came across as more bemused than frustrated by her team's early shooting woes.
"We weren't taking bad shots in the first half," Manning said. "We just weren't making anything."
A pair of buckets down low from Baecher inched the Ephs out to a 12-9 advantage, one that they then maintained for another three-and-a-quarter minutes amidst a bevy of long and fruitless possessions on each end of the court.
The Bears offense finally came alive in the half's final four minutes. An up-the-middle drive from Kirsten Prue followed by Shannon Brady's first basket of the game put Bowdoin on top, and a long-distance three from Lorrey made it 16-12 in a blink of an eye. Donahoe then provided a fitting bookend to the half with her team's final five points, and including a critical three that erased Cook's own trey at the other end and gave the Bears a 21-15 halftime advantage.
Six of those 15 points belonged to Baecher. That was good enough to lead the team, but it was readily apparent that alone was not good enough.
Baecher took just 40 seconds to equal her first half total by knocking down back-to-back threes that brought the Eph bench to its feet and paved the way for a half-opening 13-0 run. Of those 13, Baecher helped to create the finest two when she tenaciously backed into the free throw lane before hitting Harding, who finished with 12 points of her own, in the lane with a perfectly-timed pass, leaving Harding free to lay-in a nifty left-handed finish. Moments later, Baecher drilled her third three of the period to give the Ephs their largest lead of the day at 28-21 with 15:33 to play.
"Claire just took over the game in the second half," Manning said. "That [her first two threes] just gave us the momentum that we needed."
The Ephs also helped their cause with phenomenal perimeter play on defense that kept the Polar Bears from hitting a single field goal until Nina Hadzibabic drained a three to make the score 37-29 just over 12 minutes into the half. On those occasions when Bowdoin did make it into the paint, the Ephs were often there to swat the ball out of midair and finished with nine blocks, tied for their highest total thus far in conference play.
Despite her side's shooting woes, Donahoe at times almost single-handedly kept her team in the game by repeatedly drawing fouls on her way to the basket, putting the Ephs over the limit early and ultimately sending Donahoe to the line for 16 shots.
Bowdoin never got closer than five points, however, as some clutch shooting from the Ephs sealed the outcome. After Donahoe scored one of her 12 points from the line with 5:54 remaining, Harding responded with a drive that began from in front of the Ephs bench and featured a beautiful leftward spin to the basket, where Harding finished the momentum-stalling layup.
Ultimately, it was Baecher who essentially put the game out of reach with three clutch free throws within the contest's final two minutes after the Bears had pulled to within 46-40, allowing the Ephs to wind the clock down comfortably in the game's final few seconds.
The Ephs will now return home for a critical rematch against archrival Amherst, who beat the Ephs 54-48 in a non-conference game earlier this season, on Friday evening at 8 p.m. A win for the Ephs would leave them poised to earn at least a share of the regular season title following Tufts' loss to Amherst earlier today.