Keyed by several big shots down the stretch, Valparaiso defeated Western Illinois 60-56 on Saturday afternoon at the Athletics-Recreation Center, handing the Westerwinds their first Mid-Continent Conference loss of the season.
In a game that saw 12 ties and ten lead changes, a 7-0 Valpo run inside of four minutes remaining gave the Crusaders the spurt they needed to take the lead for good. Trailing 50-48, Jenna Stangler (St.Michael, Minn./St. Michael-Albertville H.S.) made a pair of free throws with 3:13 remaining to tie the game, and following a Western Illinois turnovers, Kathryn Knoester (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) drained a three-pointer to put Valpo in front.
Following a Western miss, the Westernwinds grabbed an offensive board, but turned it over. The visitors called timeout, and out of the break Knoester broke away long against the full-court press for an easy lay-in. Back-to-back baskets bay Zane Teilane and Jessica Cook cut the lead to one, but Katie Boone (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove H.S.) made a free throw, and Knoester forced a steal and added two more free throws to put Valpo up four, 58-54, with 21.5 seconds left. Betsy Rietema (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) then registered a steal and a pair of Boone free throws sealed the game.
The two teams battled to a 22-22 tie at halftime, after Valpo built an early seven-point lead, only to see an 11-3 Western run give the Westerwinds a 20-19 lead. Coming out of halftime, Western Illinois was able to build a six-point lead, 44-38, with 7:48 to play, before back-to-back Suzie Hammel (Lafayette, Ind./Lebanon H.S.) threes tied the contest.
Jamie Gutowski (Crown Point, Ind./Andrean H.S.) led the Crusaders with 15 points, including 3-for-3 shooting from beyond the arc and grabbed seven rebounds. Stangler added 12 points, while Boone contributed seven points, seven assists, and six rebounds.
Teilane led Western Illinois (9-6, 3-1 Mid-Con) with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed 13 boards. Tiffany Cornelius added 14 points and eight boards, while Jessica Cook chipped in ten points.
Western shot 44.2% from the floor, compared with Valpo's 35.3% shooting, but the Crusaders made 10-of-24 (41.7%) three-pointers while the Westerwinds made just 1-of-10 attempts. The vistors outrebounded the Crusaders 37-27, but Valpo forced 18 Western Illinois turnovers while committing just 12 of its own. Western Illinois outscored Valpo 36-8 in the paint.
Valparaiso (8-8, 3-2) will return to action on Monday evening, as the Crusaders travel to Indianapolis for a 6 p.m. CST contest at IUPUI. The game will mark Valpo's sixth road game in the last eight contests.