By Natalie Young, Bethel (Ind.) Sports Information Director
Mishawaka, Ind. - It was a matchup of two of the nation's best Saturday afternoon as NAIA No. 15 Bethel College hosted No.1 Indiana Wesleyan in Crossroads League action.
Defense dominated the game from the tipoff as neither team managed to score until IWU's Paige Smith connected from the charity strip with 15:13 remaining in the opening session. Bethel responded quickly though as Laura Johnson scored 5 quick points to spark a 14-5 run that found BC leading 14-7 with 9:10 remaining. The Lady Pilots' lead would swell to 10 points (22-12) before the Wildcats would finish the half on a 12-6 run of their own to cut the margin to four points, 28-24 at the intermission.
Bethel's defense was highly effective in the first half, limiting Indiana Wesleyan to just 6 of 24 from the field, including just 2 of 13 from behind the arc. The Wildcats scored 10 of their 24 first half points from the foul line, as they converted on 10 for 13 free throws in the first 20 minutes.
IWU would tie the game at 31 apiece early in the second half and would grab a 44-40 lead with 8:12 remaining. However, the Lady Pilots turned up the heat defensively and IWU would score just 4 more points in the final 8 minutes as BC crept to within a single point 48-47 with two free throws by Laura Johnson with 15 ticks on the clock. BC fouled on the inbounds pass, putting IWU's Clare Ray on the foul line, where she would miss the front end of the bonus toss - opening the door for the BC back-breaker.
Laura Johnson grabbed the rebound of the Ray miss and headed up the court. Swarmed by three Wildcat defenders, Johnson kicked the ball to fellow senior guard Chrissy Hooks, who hesitated briefly then calmly tickled the twine from behind the arc to give Bethel the lead - to the delight of the lively home crowd and a jubilant Bethel bench. Hooks' clutch shot gave the Lady Pilots a 50-48 lead and Bethel would contest a last second IWU shot to seal the victory.
"This was an intense defensive battle between two great teams and the energy in the building today was exciting," said Bethel coach Jody Martinez. "I am so proud of our seniors and their composure late in the game," added Martinez. "We put our best shooters on the floor at the end of the game and Chrissy Hooks will have a memory for a lifetime with that shot she hit. IWU applied a lot of defensive pressure on Laura Johnson today and I think she responded with one of her best all round games of the season leading us in scoring with 17 but also in rebounding with 7 and steals with 4. Katy Stuppy did a great job of running the show and being active on both ends from the point guard position and Kristen Hicks had three block shots and a key layup towards the end of the game. Georgia Boisse and Ashley Ort had a tough task today banging in the post against a very talented post game from IWU but I felt that they, along with Baysia Cox, Alyshia Harvey and Ashley Lutz off the bench did a great job of competing throughout. Chelsea Ward played just a few minutes but they were key minutes to give Stuppy a breather. It's that effort from our starters and the bench that we will need to have continue as we finish play in the Crossroads League and head into post season play."
Johnson, the nation's 9th leading scorer at 19.48 ppg, finished with a game high 17, while the Wildcats were led by Paige Smith's 16 points and 10 rebounds. Bethel shot just 34% from the floor for the game but held Indiana Wesleyan to just 15 for 50 (30%) for the game.
The victory was the season's signature win of the year to date, which includes wins over opponents currently ranked #1, 3, 7 and 14 in the latest NAIA DII rankings. Bethel improves to 22-6 on the season and 12-4 in Crossroads League play. The Lady Pilots will head to Grace College Wednesday, February 13 before finishing the regular season with senior day on Saturday, February 16thwhen they host Marian University.