1993 NCAA Div. III champions
PELLA—Forward AJ Baker (senior, Grinnell) made it a Senior Day to remember for the Central College women’s basketball team Saturday.
Baker scooped up an errant Central pass and heaved a desperation 3-point shot that swished at the buzzer to cap a furious Dutch comeback and stun Wartburg College 83-82 in overtime. It was Baker’s only basket on the day and Central’s first lead since the opening moments of the game which saw the Dutch overcome an 11-point deficit in the final 2:18 of regulation. Central trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half.
“I just kind of chucked it with a prayer and it went in,” Baker said of her last collegiate shot.
Central (7-18 overall, 2-14 Iowa Conference) notched just its second conference win in its season finale. Wartburg had outscored the Dutch 77-57 at Waverly Jan. 4.
“It took 25 games to put it all together but this is the greatest feeling to end the season like this,” said first-year coach Mike Jacobsma.
Wartburg (17-8 overall, 10-6 conference) raced to a 34-19 lead at the 6:30 mark of the first half and was up 40-30 at the break. Central clawed to within 46-41 with 15:58 remaining but Wartburg remained in control and still led 71-60 with 2:18 left.
Then things got crazy.
Senior guard Kelsey Schuring (Pella) knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers. Freshman Kenzie Vander Molen (Pella) drained a 3and suddenly it was 71-69 with 1:12 left. One defensive stop later, guard Sarah Paulson (senior, Ottumwa) hit two free throws to complete an 11-0 run and tie it at 71-71 with 37 seconds left.
Central got yet another defensive stop and raced up the floor with less than 10 seconds remaining. Schuring gave the crowd a thrill when she hit a 3 at the buzzer but the basket was waved off.
Wartburg came back to life in overtime and was up 80-75 with 1:46 left, but again the Dutch charged back. Paulson, who finished with a game-high 23 points in her final Central game, delivered a 3-pointer and a layup to knot it at 80-80. Wartburg played for a final shot and guard Abi Weidemann was fouled with 5 seconds remaining. She sank both free throws for an 82-80 lead.
Central scampered past halfcourt when officials discovered the clock had not started. They ran the clock down to 2.6 seconds and gave the ball to the Dutch on the sidelines.
The play call was simple, Jacobsma said.
“I think everyone in the gym knew that Sarah Paulson was going to get the touch,” he said. “That’s what we drew up.”
Yet that’s not where the ball went. The pass sailed wide, but Baker knew what to do with it.
“It wasn’t quite the play we were looking for but I got the ball and knew I had to get it off,” she said.
But it felt good once the ball left her hand.
“Honestly, it did,” she said. “I felt confident.”
Paulson led four Central players in double figures and had six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“It was a huge day for Sarah,” Jacobsma said. “Sarah had that attack mentality. We’ve been waiting for her to turn that on. All of our seniors played their tails off today.”
Guard Alyssa Schwartz (junior, Titonka, WCLT HS) had 14 points, forward Nicole Strasko (junior, Roland, Roland-Story HS) had 12 points and six boards and Schuring had 11 points and three assists.
But the stat that caught Jacobsma’s eye was Central’s 14 turnovers, the second-lowest total of the season.
“The key today was taking care of the ball,” he said. “We valued every possession.”
Central shot 44.3 percent from the floor, including 43.3 percent from 3-point range, hitting 13-of-30. The Dutch shot 50 percent in overtime. Wartburg shot 51.8 percent from the field but Central held a 35-33 rebounding edge.
Jacobsma started an all-senior lineup as guard Cory Bacon (Garwin, GMG HS), forward Melanie Hopkins (Earlham), Schuring, Paulson and Baker closed their Central careers.
“I just really appreciate the seniors buying into me, our program and our philosophy,” Jacobsma said. “They wanted to change the culture in women’s basketball here and today was a big step in that, but it started back on Oct. 15. I’m very proud of them.”
Meanwhile, the win gives the Dutch program a boost.
“This is a huge momentum lift for our underclassmen and the recruits coming in,” Jacobsma said. “We need that extra bounce in our step. We’re going to build on this.”