If you don’t count the deflected pass off an opposing player into the hands of Chelsea Apke, which forced her into an off-balanced shot that crawled over the rim and sank through the net, that game-winning play drawn up during a timeout with seven seconds left in the game went off as planned.
“We practice that play all year,” Jina DeRubbo, the women’s basketball coach at Washington & Jefferson College, said with a smile on her face.
“That’s really not the way it was supposed to go.”
The execution of the play had a few flaws in it, but no one was complaining after Apke’s basket helped seal a 62-59 victory by W&J over Penn State-Behrend in the quarterfinals of the ECAC Division III South Tournament at Henry Memorial Center Wednesday.
W&J, now 21-8, advances to Saturday’s semifinals against Swarthmore, a 67-61 winner over Marywood. Penn State-Behrend’s season ended at 17-11.
The game-deciding play was supposed to be a simple inbounds toss from the wing near Penn State-Behrend’s basket over a defender and into the hands of Apke, a 5-10 forward, for a running layup. Penn State-Behrend held a 59-58 lead at the time and also had an unusual advantage rarely seen in college basketball at this point in the game. The Lions had fouls to give, lots of them. They had only been called for four through the first 19:53 of the second half.
More amazing was that W&J had been called for just three.
That allowed Penn State-Behrend head coach Roz Fornari to drain precious seconds from the clock – maybe all of them – simply by fouling the W&J player who got the inbounds pass.
“We do that in practice for special situations,” said Fornari.
With three fouls to give, Penn State-Behrend could eat up most of the final seven seconds. Two seconds elapsed on the first inbounds pass to Valerie Dunlap. DeRubbo called timeout.
“We didn’t have any other option, because they had so many fouls to give,” said DeRubbo. “The officials let us play. If we went to Val again, they would have fouled her right away. So, we wanted to throw it over the defense to Chelsea.”
Apke’s athleticism – she leads the team in scoring (15.1), rebounding (9.6) and steals (2.2) – made her the perfect target for the pass.
“I was so lucky,” Apke said. “I thought it hit two people’s hands. I was just hoping to get fouled.”
And she did, by Emily Detsch with four seconds to play.
Apke’s free throw attempt was so bad, it turned out to be a good play for W&J. The free throw banged into the rim and wildly ricochetted over two Penn State-Behrend defenders and into the hands of W&J’s Kara Seaman.
“It was a little luck for them,” Fornari said. “But that’s going to happen if you are a good team.”
Seaman was fouled and made both free throws to give the Presidents a three-point lead with two seconds remaining. Penn State-Behrend got the ball inbounded to midcourt, but a heave by Brianna Bayly was blocked by Erin Lavery.
“This team is so much fun to coach,” said DeRubbo. “They don’t get rattled. We’re 29 games in an they truly believe they can win. You can just see their confidence grow.”
W&J led 37-30 at halftime, thanks to Apke’s play underneath and Emily Abraham’s shooting from the outside. Apke scored 11 of her game-high 23 points and Abraham, a 5-6 guard, had 13 of her 20 in the first 20 minutes. Four of Abraham’s baskets came from three-point range.
Penn State-Behrend pounded the ball inside in the second half and cut away at W&J’s lead with easy layups. A 19-8 run in the first 11 minutes gave the Lions a 49-45 lead. All but three of those points came from within two feet of their basket.
“They got the ball down low, and their post players are pretty good,” said Apke. “We knew to stay calm, because we’ve been in so many situations like this. You can’t get frazzled.”
Holly Bourquin, a 5-11 forward, had 10 of her 23, and Julia Myers scored all eight of her points in the run for the Lions.
The Lions kept their three-point lead until Dunlap hit a short jumper with two seconds left on the shot clock and Apke made a layup with 42 seconds to play to bring W&J within one, 59-58, and setting up Apke’s heroics.