Late rally lifts Warhawk women
Coach Keri Carollo's team outscored the bigger Blugolds, 12-2, in the final five minutes to pull out a 57-53 semifinal victory at Zorn Arena.
Whitewater, the No. 3 seed, plays at No. 1-seed Stevens Point at 3 p.m. Saturday for the conference tournament title.
Whitewater (22-5) overcame 27.3 percent shooting to stun Eau Claire in the final minutes. Two free throws by Laura Olson put Eau Claire up, 51-45 with 5:12 left in the game.
Whitewater's Kaitlyn Thill cut the deficit in half with a three-pointer at the 4:44 mark, and Courtney Kumerow's layup got the Warhawks to within 51-50 with 3:22 left.
Mary Merg put Whitewater ahead, 52-51, with two free throws with 2:24 left.
Eau Claire scored its first basket in more than 4 minutes to regain the lead, but Merg hit a huge three-pointer to put Whitewater ahead for good, 55-53 with 1:07 left.
"We finally hit some shots," Carollo said. "Then we had some great defensive effort down the stretch."
Whitewater forced a turnover with 45 seconds left. The Warhawks missed two more shots, but Kumerow stole the ball with 8 seconds left and sealed the victory with two free throws.
The Warhawks survived 14 points and 17 rebounds from the Pointers' 6-foot-5 center Ellen Plendl, and 19 points and seven rebounds from 6-foot Callie Halama.
"Both their big kids played really well," Carollo said. "We did a nice job pressuring them in the backcourt and limited their touches inside."
Whitewater's defense forced 28 Eau Claire turnovers, while Whitewater had just 11. That helped overcome the Blugolds' 43-33 rebounding advantage.
Now Whitewater needs to figure out a way to beat Stevens Point, which beat the Warhawks by scores of 71-50 and 80-58 during the regular season.
"We're playing with a lot more confidence," Carollo said. "Tonight was a big step. We've had trouble playing at Zorn. It's a big confidence booster."
WHITEWATER 57, EAU CLAIRE 53
Whitewater (57)—Thill, 3-4-12; Merg, 6-3-17; Swanson, 2-1-6; Burg, 5-3-14; Kumerow, 2-2-6; Bestor, 0-2-2. Totals: 18-15-57.
Eau Claire (53)—Olson, 1-2-4; Christianson, 3-1-9; Bingea, 2-2-6; Halama, 8-3-19; Plendl, 4-6-14; Miller, 0-1-1. Totals: 18-15-53.
Whitewater 23 34—57
Eau Claire 28 25—53
Three-point goals—Whitewater 6 (Thill 2, Merg 2, Swanson, Burg), Eau Claire 2 (Christianson 2). Free throws missed—Whitewater 3, Eau Claire 6. Total fouls—Whitewater 20, Eau Claire 14. Rebounds—Whitewater 33 (Kumerow 7), Eau Claire 43 (Plendl 17). Assists—Whitewater 7 (Burg 3), Eau Claire 12 (Bingea 5).