WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass — Williams' Claire Baecher received a pass, sliced her way from beyond the 3-point line into the paint and sank a one-handed layup across her body, all while being fouled by Trinity's Taylor Murtaugh. The basket was a typical play from Baecher, to the extent that the extraordinary can become routine.
The shot, which she sunk about 8:50 into Wednesday evening's contest at Chandler Gym, also gave Baecher 1,000 points for her collegiate career, an achievement that only 13 other Ephs have reached during their respective tenures in the Purple Valley and its environs.
After receiving a healthy round of applause from the crowd, Baecher calmly stepped up to the line and knocked down her 1001st point. After all, there was still a game on.
Ninety minutes and 57 points later, the Williams women's basketball team (20-4, 9-1 NESCAC) closed out its regular season with an emphatic 74-42 victory over the Trinity Bantams (13-10, 4-6 NESCAC). The victory was the Ephs' fourth in a row, and it earned them a share of the regular-season conference title, along with Tufts and Amherst. The Bantams, meanwhile, dropped their fifth straight conference contest following a 4-1 start and fell into a five-way tie for fourth place.
While the Ephs offense initially lacked some of the intensity that made it so effective in Sunday's watershed win over Amherst, it wanted for little in the way of ball movement and quickly began to put up points in bunches. Baecher began the scoring when she put back her own rebound following a well-placed pass over the top from Kellie Macdonald, who then sank a mid-range jumper of her own after Moriah Sweeney tied it with a coast-to-coast effort.
The Bantams did manage to just about match the Ephs' scoring pace in the early going thanks in part to a pair of jump shots from Hannah Brickley, who came off the bench in the game's opening minute and ultimately led the Bantams with 11 points. They also got some help from Sweeney, who had some success in keeping Baecher out of the paint despite her six-inch height disadvantage.
Still, the Bantams never managed to wrestle the lead away from Williams. After Baecher's milestone bucket, the Ephs soon opened up a comfortable advantage by holding the Bantams without a field goal for nearly five minutes while rolling up 18 points. After wearing the collar with an 0-for-7 shooting performance against Amherst on Sunday, Ellen Cook catalyzed the Eph run with a strong offensive performance, including a sensational individual effort in which she poked the ball away from Brickley and managed to maintain a dribble even with the ball nearly stationary on the floor and Brickley hot on her heels before draining a layup for two of her season-high 19 points, which she accumulated in just 24 minutes to lead all scorers.
"Ellen was great," said coach Pat Manning. "She played really solid defense in the Amherst game, but her offense wasn't flowing. It was great to have her back on track."
Meanwhile, the Ephs continued to press their advantage by repeatedly drawing fouls in the paint and draining the resultant free throws. By the time Grace Rehnquist scored her first points with a 25-foot jumper straight back from the top of the key with 7:52 remaining, the Ephs led by a 32-11 count and had definitively shaken off any of the doldrums that might have followed their supreme effort on Sunday.
"I do think we got off to a little bit of a slow start," said Manning. "Trinity came after us and played really aggressively. It took us a little bit to get ready for that defense. But then it clicked; we just started focusing on our execution."
Shantel Hanniford finally ended her side's drought when she snuck into the paint and put home an easy layup with 6:52 to go, but the damage had been done, and the Ephs entered halftime up 45-24 following a Cook 3-pointer off a nifty handoff from Jen Borderud.
The Ephs erased any doubt as to the outcome of the contest with a 14-0 run to begin the second half. Once again, it was Cook who kickstarted the run, this time with a 3-pointer. A Macdonald jumper, a splendid layup from Jennie Harding, in which she cleanly shook off her defender with a full spin to her left near the foul line and went straight up the gut before lofting and underhanded lefty layup high off the glass, and a pull-up jumper from Cook followed in rapid succession, prompting both teams to substitute out their entire starting lineups with over 15 minutes to play, the Eph victory all but assured.
Both teams now await the results of a New England Small College Athletic Conference tiebreaker that will determine all quarterfinal rankings. The Ephs are guaranteed a home game when the playoffs begin this Saturday, though their opponent and exact seed remain in question — not that this appears to concern them much.
"We don't care," said Manning on her team's chances of getting the top seed. "We feel like we're playing our best basketball right now, so we're just ready and excited about what's to come."