Playing for the fourth time in seven days, Valparaiso hung with 10th-ranked Green Bay for 27 minutes on Wednesday evening before the Phoenix went on a 15-0 run and eventually downed the Crusaders 77-53 at the Kress Events Center in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Championship held in Green Bay, Wis.
The Crusaders were within nine at the 13:34 mark of the second half after starting the second half on an 8-4 run. Green Bay’s defense forced six straight Valpo turnovers though as part of a 15-0 run, giving the Horizon League regular season champion a 59-35 lead.
“I give our kids a lot of credit tonight,” head coach Keith Freeman said after the game. “I really liked how we adjusted to their pressure man. We were able to do a much better job of taking advantage of their help and spreading them out than we did in the first two meetings this season. During that run they took advantage of us not having five passers. They created their offense from their defense. Our defense against them in the half-court was very good tonight.”
After the lead grew to as many as 27, Valpo tried to battle back one last time, pulling within 70-49 on an Ashley Varner (South Bend, Ind./Washington H.S.) three-pointer, but that would be as close as the Crusaders would get the rest of the way.
Valpo started the game strong defensively, as the Phoenix made just two of its first nine shots from the floor. Tabitha Gerardot's (Fort Wayne, Ind./Canterbury H.S.) triple gave the Crusaders a 10-7 lead at the 12:56 mark of the first half.
Green Bay (28-1) went on a 13-0 run to take a 20-10 advantage as the Crusaders started the game making just 3-of-12 from the floor while committing nine turnovers.
The Crusaders fought back, scoring seven straight points in a 1:44 span, capped with back-to-back jumpers by Gerardot and Gina Lange (Wyoming, Minn./Forest Lake H.S.), pulling within three.
The Phoenix pushed the lead back to 11 before Valpo got back to within seven on a Varner triple, but Julie Wojta scored Green Bay’s final seven points of the half and the tournament’s top seed took a 38-25 lead into the locker room.
Gerardot led Valparaiso (10-21) with 19 points and eight rebounds while Varner added 14 points and Lange chipped in 11 more.
“Tabitha keeps getting better,” Freeman added. “She’s incredibly smart and got in a good zone letting the game come to her.”
Green Bay forced 26 Crusader turnovers which led to 45 points and shot 51.8% from the floor in the victory. Wojta tallied 17 points, five rebounds, and six steals while Sarah Eichler added 14 points. The Phoenix registered 17 steals in the game.
“Wojta is one tough player,” Freeman concluded. “She did some very athletic things out there tonight. They are very talented and well-coached and have so many weapons.”
Game Notes: Green Bay leads the all-time series 25-4 and has won 10 straight meetings between the two schools … Varner finished the season with 279 rebounds, ranking second on Valpo’s single season charts … Varner finished with 595 career boards, moving into the top-10 all-time in school history … Laura Richards (Connersville, Ind./Connersville H.S.) tallied 83 steals, finishing fifth on the yearly theft list … Richards had two assists on Wednesday and now has 288 for her career, moving into seventh on the career list … Gerardot scored in double figures in 22 of 31 games on the season … Varner and Ashley Timmerman (Pontiac, Ill./Pontiac H.S.) concluded their careers with the Crusaders.