WILLIAMSTOWN, MA—A dominant first-half run and strong play inside propelled the Williams women's basketball team to a season-opening 60-53 victory over Salve Regina in the opening contest year's edition of the Williams Tip-Off tournament.
Senior Claire Baecher controlled the opening tip for the Ephs, who attempted a bevy of three-pointers early and managed to parlay a pair of those into an early 6-3 lead. Early substitute Grace Rehnquist helped stretch that lead when she came on with just over four-and-a-quarter minutes gone by. Rehnquist sent a looping inbound pass to Baecher, who used her height to corral the pass before executing a nifty spin and completing the layup for her first basket of the year. Rehnquist then assisted Danny Rainer on the Ephs' next trip up the court, bringing the lead to seven.
Although some stingy perimeter defense from Williams limited Salve Regina to just three points in the game's first 4:50, the Seahawks lifted the pace of their offense and scored eight points in a row in the next 1:20 to claim an 11-10 advantage. Leading the way was senior guard Kaitlyn Birrell, who used her quickness to knock down two baskets and assist on a third during the run in her capacity as the quarterback of the Seahawks fast break attack.
Not to be outdone, the Ephs quickly responded with a 15-0 run that spanned more than six minutes. In contrast to the Seahawks lightning run that gave them the lead, the Ephs' dominance was characterized by methodical and unselfish passing coupled with some timely shooting. Indeed, five different Ephs scored over the course of the streak, which Baecher punctuated with a jumper with 5:20 remaining.
The stat sheet provided further evidence of the Ephs' success in spreading the ball around, as they held a dominant 10-3 lead in assists by halftime.
The Ephs came out of the break with a 29-20 lead and started well when Ellen Cook found Baecher and Rainer for a pair of quick baskets, but the Seahawks responded again and gradually whittled away at the deficit, finally nailing it back to one when Brianna Del Valle made a running one-handed layup to narrow the score to 43-42.
They would get no closer, however, as Jennie Harding responded for the Ephs by draining a clutch three-pointer from near the top of the key to give the Ephs a four-point cushion, a play the Coach Pat Manning called the turning point of the game.
"That was so big," said Manning. "She's a great shooter, and we want her to look for her shot."
Harding then came up with another big three with just under four minutes later to double the Ephs advantage to 53-47 immediately after a Meghan Harden three had brought Salve Regina within a trio of points. The Ephs then maintained that advantage the rest of the way to claim victory.
"With such a short preseason, we're never quite ready for the first game," said Manning. "I think this was a great test for us, especially when the momentum of the game started to shift [in the Seahawks' favor]. But nobody panicked and everyone stepped up.
"We still have a long way to go to get to where we want to be though."
Rainer and Baecher dominated in the paint on both ends, leading the way on offense for the Ephs with 14 points apiece while also combining for seven of the team's ten blocks.
Reserve Kaitlyn Lendrum paced all scorers with 15 points, while Harden and Del Valle chipped in with nine and eight respectively for the Seahawks, who got over half their points from their bench and outrebounded the Ephs 38-34.
Both squads will play at Williams tomorrow afternoon to wrap up the Tip-Off tournament. The Seahawks will square off against Wellesley at 1:00 p.m. before the Ephs battle University of New England at 3:00 p.m.