In a grind-it-out battle that took every ounce of effort from the Bulldogs, the University of Redlands women's basketball team clinched the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Championship with a 54-49 victory over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges on Wednesday night. With the win, Redlands is guaranteed a top seed in the upcoming SCIAC Postseason Tournament, as well as home-court advantage throughout. This also marks 13th-year Head Coach Rich Murphy's first conference title since the 2009-2010 season, while making it to the SCIAC Postseason Tournament in each of its 12 years of existence.
The Maroon and Gray sprinted out the blocks with a 5-0 run in the first minute between senior guard Cassandra Lacey (Victorville, CA) and sophomore guard Alyssa Downs (South San Francisco, CA). Their momentum slowed down as CMS ramped up its defense, but first-year guard Angelina Roque (San Diego, CA) slashed to the hoop for a layup off a dime from sophomore forward Hannah Jerrier (Canton, MA) to re-take a 7-6 lead with 2:40 left in the first.
However, the Athenas closed out the period strong with a 12-7 advantage heading into the second.
Neither team could take the lid off the basket until Claremont-Mudd-Scripps knocked down a three-pointer that began an 8-0 run to put the Athenas up 19-7 nearly midway through the second quarter.
First-year guard Alexis Machain (San Diego, CA) stepped behind the arc to drain a triple and stop the run a couple of minutes later, which helped the Bulldogs slowly eat away at the deficit. After Redlands knocked down four straight free throws, first-year guard Marisa Urbano-Sedlund (San Diego, CA) drained a triple from the wing off a feed from Downs to close the gap to 17-23 with just over a minute remaining in the half.
Through 20 minutes of action, the Athenas went into the break with a 28-19 lead.
The third quarter proved to be a defensive slugfest with both teams only recording one field goal four minutes into the second half, making it 30-22 in favor of the visitors.
Redlands began to find holes in the CMS defense and strung together six consecutive points that were highlighted by a sweet pass from Roque to Lacey for a fade-away jumper to come back to within 25-30 with four and a half minutes to go in the third.
The Bulldogs continued to embrace the Athenas' extended pressure by scoring seven of the final nine points of the quarter, making it 32-36 with 10 more minutes of action remaining. The Maroon and Gray got it done on both ends with a steal and a transition jumper from Lacey and a deep trey from Downs in their third-quarter run.
In the fourth, Redlands slimmed its deficit to one possession on three separate occasions with clutch baskets from Downs, Jerrier, and Roque in the first four minutes. Redlands knotted up the game with a layup from Jerrier, while Machain slipped a pass through the CMS defense on a pick-and-roll to Jerrier on the next possession to take their first lead since the first quarter at 42-40 with 4:59 on the clock.
Despite the Athenas tying the game once more, momentum remained with the Bulldogs as Jerrier dropped a dime for Lee who finished with a tough and-one to help Redlands take control of a 45-42 advantage.
CMS closed the gap to one point, but Jerrier shrugged off the defense to get three the hard way with another converted and-one for a 50-46 lead with a minute and a half to go.
The Maroon and Gray relied on its stout defense and clutch free-throw shooting to close out the game. In the final 1:44, the Bulldogs knocked down four free throws and held the Athenas scoreless until eight seconds, while forcing two turnovers to seal a 54-49 victory and the conference title.
For the game, Jerrier notched a near double-double with 13 points and eight rebounds. Downs tallied nine points, four rebounds, two assists, and a steal, while Lacey dropped in eight points, six boards, and a steal. Machain came off the bench to lead her team with four assists to go along with her five points in 10 minutes of action. As a team, the Bulldogs out-rebounded the Athenas, 37-29 and held a 13-7 advantage in the assist column.
Redlands (18-6, 13-2 SCIAC) closes out the regular season on the road against Whitter College on Saturday, February 19, at 7 p.m.