The cards were stacked against the Gustavus Women’s basketball team heading into post-season play. The Gusties were nursing a three-game losing streak, still feeling the absence of a key starter in Gabby Bowlin, out for more than a month with a wrist injury, and just this past week lost their third-leading scorer Paige Richert to a knee injury.
Given the circumstances and the young roster, a first-round loss to scrappy #5 seed Hamline would not have been an unforeseen end to their season.
But Tuesday night on Gus Young court, the Gusties showed their resiliency and toughness by holding off the Pipers time and time again, emerging victorious with an 84-76 win.
“Heading into playoffs was actually a reset for us. We’ve had to adjust late in the season due to injuries, but we know what we’re capable of and how well we can play so our goal every game is to go out, play loose, and execute our game plan,” Junior Alison Hinck said.
The Gusties never trailed in the game and jumped out to an early 10-3 lead, but each quarter was a battle. After a timeout the Pipers regrouped and cut the lead to two points at 14-12, but a strong finish to the quarter thanks to layups by Maddy Rice and Marisa Gustafson put the Gusties up six at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter saw Gustavus exerting their muscle and slowly building their lead up to eleven.
The Pipers then cut it to seven at the end of the half until a bucket from Caitlin Rorman with time winding down which gave the Gusties a 37-28 advantage at halftime.
Hamline came out of the locker room hot and played their best quarter of basketball, cutting the lead to 42-41 with 3:45 remaining in the period. A huge seven-point spurt from Anna Sanders was mainly responsible for maintaining the Gustie lead in the quarter where the team was plagued by foul trouble, as the Pipers went 9-9 from the free throw line in the third. Entering the final quarter, Gustavus clung tenuously to a 57-53 lead.
Hamline was determined not to submit easily, and the fourth quarter was hotly contested. The Gusties led by just five points with 2:57 left in the game when a layup by Rorman and a short jumper by Sanders on consecutive possessions broke the game open.
Down 75-65 with just over a minute remaining, the Pipers resorted to fouling in an attempt to crawl back into the game, but several late threes were too little too late and Gustavus converted at the free throw line late to secure the victory.
“We played great,” Head Coach Laurie Kelly said. “It’s fun to see all the students out to support us. For our last home game with this team it was a great way to go out scoring 84 points. We did some good things, but for us in the second half we’re going to have to defend a lot better than that. I think the highlight was having Gabby back on the floor after her injury. It’s been such a great season for us as we’ve had a lot of obstacles with injuries and ups-and-downs and we have thrown people into roles they maybe weren’t ready for but we’ve been learning as we go and had some young players step up and some veteran players take a bigger role. I don’t think people understand that when you have someone that handles the ball and makes decisions the way Ava does how much you can take it for granted.”
Bowlin notched 11 points in her return to go with a team high eight rebounds and three steals. The trio of freshman phenoms rose to the occasion, as Rorman led all scorers with 23 points and Rice and Sanders both added 13 points to lead the way for the Gusties.
Gustavus now advances to the MIAC semifinals where they will take on No. 9 ranked Bethel, who swept the Gusties during the regular season.
“At this point in the year, anyone can beat anyone so every game is going to be battle,” said Hinck. “We’re two games away from the NCAA tournament. I keep telling them that’s why we play tournament games, and Bethel is a quality team but we feel confident we can give them a really good fight.”