With a minute left, Puget Sound senior Amanda Forshay faked right, drove left, beat her defender and scored. The shot brought Forshay to 19 points and gave Puget Sound its first lead of the game, 56-55.
They weren’t about to give it up.
“At halftime, I told them to chip away,” Loggers coach Loree Payne said. “All that matters is that we’re ahead at the buzzer.”
On Friday night, they were.
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The Loggers (24-4) overcame a 33-19 halftime deficit against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (24-3) to win their first-round NCAA Division III tournament game, 61-56, at George Fox’s Wheeler Sports Center in Newberg.
The Loggers will face 3rd-ranked George Fox (28-0) at Wheeler Sports Center at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Loggers’ fast-paced, high-scoring offense, which averaged more than 70 points per game, had shot just 29 percent from the field and turned the ball over seven times in the first half. They had smacked into an enigmatic Athenas defense that allowed just 50 points per game, 15th-lowest in the nation.
“They prepared really well for our scorers,” Loggers center Katy Ainslie said. “We were playing timid and they had us on our heels in the first half.”
Furthering Puget Sound’s troubles was Athenas guard Kimberly Scamman. The Loggers couldn’t slow down the preseason All-American and at the end of the first half she accounted for 17 of Claremont’s 33 points.
“(Scamman) is a great player,” Payne said. “She was making things happen for them.”
The second half, however, was a different story.
“Our defense started to take it personal,” Payne said. “They buckled down and started getting stops.”
Scamman, who had been scoring almost at will in the first half, was held to just eight points in the second.
On offense, the sharp passes and decisive shots that are the hallmark of the Loggers finally appeared.
Ainslie, who had been held to just four points in the first half, shouldered much of the load. Again and again, Loggers guard Emily Sheldon went to her center. Sheldon, Puget Sound’s leading scorer for the season, was held to just three points, but repeatedly found Ainslie, who had 20.
“In the NCAA tournament, you look for your playmakers to step up,” Payne said. “I’m really proud of our girls.”
And when the buzzer sounded, Payne’s plan to “chip away” at Claremont’s lead had worked. The Loggers won, 61-56, taking the lead in the final minute and never looking back. There were no last-second heroics. Just steady progress until the end.
“I think the intensity of the game was a shock for us at first, but their composure at the end was on point,” Payne said. “It makes me proud as a coach and it shows the maturity of this team.”
The Loggers’ second-round matchup against the Bruins will be the teams’ fourth meeting this year; the three prior have gone to George Fox.
Payne offered a word of warning for the Bruins, however: “It’s hard to beat a good team four times in a row.”