Staunton, Va - What was touted as the biggest game in MBU athletics history did not disappoint. The Mary Baldwin women's basketball team hosted its first-ever conference playoff game Wednesday night in a heart-stopping 114-108 overtime win against the N.C. Wesleyan Battling Bishops. First-year point guard Demet Saygili tied a school record with 44 points in front of a raucous crowd in the PAC. The win sends the Fighting Squirrels into the quarterfinal round of the USA South Tournament for the first time.
The two teams battled back and forth the entire game in a contest of wills that resulted in nine lead changes. After outscoring the Bishops by a point in the opening quarter, the Fighting Squirrels found themselves down 53-45 at halftime. That deficit would swell during the third quarter when the Bishops jumped ahead 67-52, their largest lead of the game.
But Mary Baldwin would not be denied. The Fighting Squirrels fought their way back with the same gritty play and a smothering defense that carried them through their historic season, exploding for a 24-7 run that trimmed the Bishops' lead to a mere two points leading into the final quarter.
Saygili's drive to the hoop gave Mary Baldwin a 76-74 lead with 8:33 remaining. The Bishops tied the score on their next trip down the floor, but a Saygili free throw put Mary Baldwin up a point. The Fighting Squirrels went on to stretch the lead to 9 with 90 seconds to play, but a flurry of quick scoring plays by the visitors thrust the game into overtime.
The Fighting Squirrels would take the lead in the extra frame when a Bishops' foul led to Nicole Mallon sinking a pair of free throws. A miss by N.C. Wesleyan was followed by a Saygili 3-pointer that put MBU in command the rest of the way. The Fighting Squirrels went on to outscore the Bishops 15-9 in the added time, sending MBU to the next round of USA South Conference tournament play and the home crowd into a frenzy.
"This team battled back from a 15-point deficit in the second half versus a well-coached and veteran-led team," said MBU Head Coach Ross James, who was recently named USA South Coach of the Year. "Their players fought to the very end, but fortunately we were able to make a few more plays down the stretch that was ultimately the difference. Tonight's crowd brought energy, enthusiasm and passion. Those were three pieces that we needed to assist us in this historic win. They were definitely a factor in tonight's success."
First-years Leah Calhoun and Demet Saygili combined for 76 of MBU's 114 points in the overtime playoff win. In addition to Saygili tying a school record held by Christy Shelton, USA South Rookie of the Year Calhoun contributed 32 points and 9 rebounds. Brooke Anders (USA South Second Team, East Division) had 17 points, including a team-high four 3-pointers. Mallon finished with 11 points, while Nicole Blackburn added 7 and Hannah Varner finished with 3.
The Fighting Squirrels (17-9) now advance to face No. 2 seed Piedmont College on Saturday at 2 p.m. The game can be watched live on the web via the Piedmont website.
Recap by Allea Harris