ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A furious finish to the first half and a sustained run of success to begin the second gave Williams (23-5, 9-1 NESCAC) an authoritative 79-59 victory against Scranton (19-9, 10-4 Landmark) on Friday. The win was the Ephs’ first in the national tournament since 2010, when Pat Manning’s squad advanced to the Round of 16 before falling to archrival Amherst.
The victory also made the six seniors on the Ephs the winningest class in Williams women’s basketball history. It was the 83rd victory for the ’13s, who earned their first three years ago with an 82-75 win against Oneonta State at Rochester’s Palestra.
Early on, the Royals started out fast and rapidly raced out to a double-digit lead. Alison Sweeney got Scranton started when she pulled up in front of the Eph bench and drained a three on her side’s first possession. Then, with just two minutes elapsed, Erin Boggan backed into Danny Rainer before turning and hitting a high fadeaway to give the Royals an early 5-0 lead.
While the Ephs battled back quickly and soon trimmed the deficit to one at 7-6 after Claire Baecher drained a long two from in front of the Scranton bench. A spate of early turnovers caused by the Scranton attack and some poor shooting kept them from pulling back to sea level.
Meanwhile, the Royals took advantage of the Ephs’ offensive woes and scored 16 of the game’s next 23 points. Of those 16, 14 came from Jaclyn Grantz and Meredith Mesaris, who led the Royals with 17 points on the evening and repeatedly had her way in the paint.
With under eight minutes left in the half, Ellen Cook tossed an inbounds pass straight to Sweeney, who drove up court and passed to Mesaris, who finished her own rebound for a 23-13 advantage.
“We were playing a little tentatively,” Manning said on her team’s first start. “Then our defense kicked in and everything worked for us.”
Cook made two passes on successive trips up the court to Jennie Harding behind the arc and Rainer wide open under the basket to cut the deficit in half. Baecher then notched six in a row for the Ephs.
With the Royals struggling from the field for the first time, the Ephs finally pulled even when a series of passes between Harding, Rainer and Cook culminated in an open 3-pointer from Cook to knot things at 27.
The Ephs continued to press forward in the half’s final minutes. After a Royal free throw nudged Scranton back out in front by one, Cook passed to MacDonald, where she gathered in Cook’s pass and put in the layup for the first Eph lead of the night. Moments later, Cook made an open three that stretched the Williams advantage to four.
As the final seconds of the half ticked down, Baecher came up with a block on a Scranton shot attempt, then pushed the ball forward to Harding as the clock showed five seconds to play. Harding managed to keep the ball inbounds and hurled the ball upcourt to Kellie Macdonald, who had started to sprint up court as soon as Baecher recorded the initial block. Macdonald put her layup off the backboard and in as the buzzer sounded, giving the Ephs a 34-28 lead and capping a 21-5 run.
Though the Royals briefly rallied, the Ephs launched into a 14-2 run that gave them plenty of breathing room. Baecher dished to Grace Rehnquist for a 3-point shot from the top of the key that gave the Ephs a 53-39 lead. Moments later, Rehnquist returned the favor and found Cook on the wing for her fourth three of the half to give Williams a 17-point lead.
In total, the Ephs had four players in double figures, as Harding chipped in with 14 points and Macdonald added 10. Baecher led all players with 23 points and 14 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season.
“Claire [Baecher] definitely was a force,” Manning said. “[Friday], she showed why she was player of the year in the conference with the effort she had.