WAYNESBURG – On the surface, third place in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference standings doesn’t sound like much, but with the Thomas More women’s basketball team ranked No. 10 in the country, staying away from them early in the PAC tournament could prove to be a huge advantage for the teams that finish second and third.
Led by an inspired second-half play at both ends of the floor, Washington and Jefferson took a big step Wednesday night toward finishing in third place by defeating Waynesburg 56-51 at Rudy Marisa Fieldhouse.
The W&J men created some excitement of their own and capped a sweep for the Presidents. W&J got off to another slow start and trailed by double digits early before rallying and pulling out a much-needed 70-69 victory.
The win gives the W&J women (9-4, 13-6) sole possession of third place.
“It’s huge,” said W&J coach Jina DeRubbo. “We always talk about putting ourselves in the best position to try and win a championship, and tonight was a big win that could go a long way in maybe putting ourselves in that position.”
W&J took a second-half lead for the first time at 41-40 after a Valerie Dunlap jumper with eight minutes left. The lead changed hands five times over the next few minutes, but the Presidents increased their lead to six points by holding the Yellow Jackets without a field goal for almost five minute late in the game.
Waynesburg (8-5, 9-11), which is in fourth place, fought back and pulled to within 52-51 with less than a minute left, but Dunlap made the game’s key shot, a contested layup that put W&J up 54-51. The Yellow Jackets had a chance to tie, but W&J guard Kara Seamon stole an inbounds pass and made a free throw.
The story of the night turned out to be W&J’s ability to get the ball inside in the second half. They went to Dunlap on almost every crucial possession and the sophomore responded with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
“It was a big win for us, and it was nice to play a big role,” said Dunlap. “We thought we could get the ball inside in the second half and we were able to have success with it. We have such an unselfish team, so everyone played a part.”
W&J’s Chelsea Apke had a big game with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Dunlap and Apke combined for 25 points and 10 rebounds in the second half.
Waynesburg, which won at W&J earlier this month, shot only 32.8 percent. Paige Pearce led with 14 points.
“It’s a tough loss,” said Waynesburg head coach Sam Jones. “While it is disappointing, it’s exactly that – only one loss. We will look at the tape, but we won’t stress over some missed free throws or not getting stops when needed. We will just get back to work and try to be better next game.”
W&J trailed by 10 points in the second half, but took their first lead with just over one minute remaining at 68-65 on Doug Johnson’s three-pointer.
Waynesburg (3-9, 8-13) regained a 69-68 lead, but W&J’s Zach Bellhy stepped to the line and knocked down a pair of clutch free throws with seven seconds remaining to put the Presidents on top 70-69.
“We have been in a funk,” said W&J coach Glenn Gutierrez. “We haven’t been coming out with energy to start games, and we’ve had to play catch-up from down double-digits. We did that tonight, but I was happy with the energy we had from the start. We just didn’t make shots early. We needed that win badly.”
The Presidents (6-6, 8-13) were led by Bellhy with 17 points. Nate Bellhy chipped in 16, Nick Martin scored 12 and Johnson had 11.
Waynesburg, which shot 60 percent in the first half, was led by Jacob Fleegle’s 17 points. Kenny Klase (14), Tommy Ellis (11) and Jason Propst (10) also scored in double figures.