By Pete Chiodo
The final 30 seconds are slipping off the clock. The score is tied 64-64. It’s Ohio Wesleyan’s ball and the Battling Bishops are setting up their offense.
What, Allegheny worry?
“I don’t think I ever thought we were in trouble,” said Gators freshman guard Rachel Vigliotti. “I just thought, it’s about time we finish the game.”
So, the Gators’ defense put some pressure on Bishops guard Caroline Welker at the point. Welker bobbles the ball, but regains possession and turns to find somebody to hand it off to. Vigliotti spots a weak spot in the armor.
“I saw the one girl turn her back, and as soon as she turned her back I was going,” Vigliotti said. “I knew it. As soon as she fumbled it, I just went as fast as I could.”
OWU’s Sarah McQuade comes over to help out Welker. But as Welker goes to hand McQuade the ball, Vigliotti rushes between the two and — yoink! — snatches the rock away and is off down the court on a fastbreak.
“My first thought was, ‘How much time is left on the clock?’ Because I wasn’t sure,” said Vigliotti. “I was like, ‘Make it! Make it!’ So I went as fast as I could.”
Vigliotti was up and in for the bucket, pushing Allegheny in front 66-64 with 12.7 seconds left.
Welseyan had time to force a shot at the other end. It missed. The Gators got the rebound and Ann Ryan was fouled with 1.7 seconds remaining. She got two shots; made the first and missed the second. But OWU didn’t have enough time for a legitimate attempt at the other hoop.
That was it. Allegheny held on for a 67-64 white-knuckle victory over Ohio Wesleyan in the quarterfinal round of the North Coast Athletic Conference women’s tournament, Tuesday night at the David V. Wise Center.
“It was a great game,” said Gators head coach Kate Costanzo. “It was a total playoff atmosphere. We had a great crowd here. A back-and-forth game; we had a lead for a little bit but then they came storming back. So, it was an exciting game. It might have been more exciting for a spectator. But, you know, I thought we did a great job. We had a great defensive possession for that turnover.”
The win improves Allegheny’s record to 15-11 on the year and advances the third-seeded Gators to the semifinal round where they will face No. 2 Kenyon (19-7) in a matchup scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m. at DePauw University’s Neal Fieldhouse. Kenyon was a 70-61 winner over Oberlin last night.
Ohio Wesleyan, the sixth seed in the tournament, ends its season with a record of 8-17.
“Allegheny is a nice team, so I give credit to them,” said Bishops head coach Stacey Ungashick Reed. “But I’m really proud of our effort all the way around. There was a couple times there where (Allegheny) had an eight-point lead and we could have folded. And given our situation — we’ve had some pretty bad injuries the last two weeks of the season — I feel our players have overcome every obstacle as well as we possibly could. We had opportunities at the end. And that’s all you want out of your team is to have the opportunity.”
The Bishops had quite a hill to climb early in the game. Allegheny came out guns blazing in the first, pulling out to a 14-3 lead and extending it to 19-8 with 13:06 to play.
The Lady Gators hit three of their first four 3-point attempts. Kendall Hoffman had one trey. Jessica Mrdjenovich bucketed her first two. The Gators also dominated the boards, pulling down seven rebounds to Ohio Wesleyan’s one in the opening minutes.
Allegheny then cooled a bit. And Wesleyan enjoyed a seven-point scoring run to bring the lead back within striking distance at 19-15 with 10:21 to go in the first.
“We came out with a lot of energy,” said Costanzo. “And basketball is a game of runs. So I was expecting (OWU) to go on a run too. In the playoffs, you’re not going to maintain that lead the whole game.”
The two sides would trade buckets the rest of the half. And Allegheny went into the break leading 33-29.
Mrdjenovich was outstanding in the first. She knocked down three 3-pointers and finished the half with 13 points to lead the Gators.
Wesleyan’s top scorer at the half was freshman guard Emily Julius, who was 2-for-3 from the arc and scored eight points.
Julius then started the second half with her third trey of the game, cutting Allegheny’s lead to 33-32. And that seemed to get the Bishops going. They outscored Allegheny 14-7 during the opening five minutes, taking 42-40 lead on a layup by Julia Grimsley with 15 minutes to play.
Allegheny’s defense just seemed a step too slow in the early part of the second. The Gators were charged with six personal fouls in the first five minutes. Ohio Wesleyan, zero.
Gators senior Daryl Ford got her team back on track, however, recording back-to-back layups. And Vigliotti followed that up with a drive down the lane to make it 46-42 AC.
Vigliotti and Mrdjenovich later added some big 3-pointers, helping Allegheny take its biggest lead of the second half at 54-46. Vigliotti ended the night with nine points and a team-high five assists. Mrdjenovich had 19 points, going 5-for-8 from downtown.
And Ford continued to play a pivotal role for the Gators, scoring eight consecutive points during the middle part of the second, including a layup in transition that made it 58-50 with 8:04 to play.
“We did a better job of getting Daryl the ball and giving her the lanes to drive and go in strong for some easy points around the rim,” said Costanzo.
Ford ended the game with a double-double — 20 points, 11 rebounds.
“I definitely didn’t want this to be my last game,” said Ford. “We were focused. In practice and in the game, we knew what we had to do. We knew that we had to box them out. We knew that we had to convert on our steals. And that’s exactly what we did (Thursday) and it led to the win.”
Ohio Wesleyan wasn’t done scrapping, though. The Bishops steadily chipped away at Allegheny’s lead thanks to some clutch 3-pointers by Hanna Fedorka and Mary Corbett. Then with 1:45 left, Welker capped a five-point run when she drove inside and banked the ball in to tie the game at 64-64.
The Bishops had the momentum.
In just a minute, Vigliotti would steal it away.
“We knew this was going to be a competitive game,” said Ford. “OWU has improved so much from the beginning of the season. They gave us a close game at their place. So we knew it wasn’t going to be a cake walk here either.”
Julius ended up pacing the Bishops with 15 points. She was 3-for-4 from the arc and also had seven rebounds. Welker added 11 points. Tamra Landot lead the team with 11 rebounds.
Emma Pellicano had 10 rebounds for Allegheny. The Gators out-rebounded the Bishops 45-34.