By HANNAH COHEN
No. 10 Drake ended their season in the NCAA First Round in an overtime loss versus No. 7 Mizzou after getting second place to NCAA No. 11 Missouri State on Sunday, March 17 in Moline, Illinois for Hoops in the Heartland with a 94-79 upset.
The Bulldogs first faced No. 8 Valparaiso in Moline to start off the tournament with a solid 86-58-point win over the Crusaders. Drake dominated the entire game keeping Valpo back with the highest lead being 34 points. In just the first quarter, after Sammie Bachrodt, guard, put up two free throws from Valpo’s start violation, Drake dominated defensively along with offensively to take it 21-5.
“It’s been really fun to see how good this league is,” Head Coach Jennie Baranczyk said. “Our league is such a great league I think we’ve had so many great wins this year. We’ve been
challenged and we’ve challenged other teams.”
Becca Hittner, second consecutive Jackie Stiles MVC Player of the Year who put up a game-high 18, started off the second quarter with three good free throws after a foul attempted to stop her from getting some points outside of the arc. After a successful three from Valparaiso following Hittner’s shots at the free throw line, Drake’s defense again stepped it up inside the paint and held the Crusaders to an 0-for-5 shooting run. The Bulldogs struggled protecting the arc, as all of Valparaiso’s points 18 points this quarter were from threes.
In the second half, Hittner put up a good three within seconds and she along with forward Sara Rhine, and guard Maddy Dean,were the sole scorers for Drake in the third with a combined total of 20 points from threes, free throws and two-pointers, again demonstrating Drake’s ability to shoot from anywhere on the court.
Going into the fourth, the three players started off scoring for Drake until guard Nicole Miller drained a three. Forward Monica Burich got two layups directly following to add to her 1.000 field goal percentage with 10 points on the day. Forward Brenni Rose, then put up another layup to make her game total seven points and earn the 34-point lead gap. Valparaiso came back with two threes to make their three field goal totals 13 of their 17 baskets, but that wasn’t enough to stop Drake.
Next up, on Saturday Drake faced No. 4 Illinois State with a 65-54 win and place in the championship game. Hittner and Rhine led Drake again, but this time Rhine got her 12th double-double getting 15 points for Drake and 11 rebounds and Hittner led again but with 22 points and went 3-for-5 behind the arc.
Dean, Hittner and Rhine got Drake’s 15 points in the first to keep a mere 1-point lead over the Red Birds. The competition only got more intense as Illinois State earned the lead in the second quarter off two free throws and kept the lead throughout until Rose scored a literal last-second three to end the half.
“We do a great job of staying steady and composed,” Baranczyk said. “It’s kind of an amazing thing to be able to watch our team do that and at the same time we got a little bit tight I think in that first quarter and when the shots weren’t falling we kind of got back on our heels a little bit and so you knew once we just could kind of loosen up and get the ball in the hole that some of that stuff would continue to happen but I do think that we did a pretty nice job on the defensive end.”
Defensively in the second quarter, Bachrodt’s first steal of the game broke the Drake all-time record of 274 held by Kay Riek since 1984. On top of this, the back-to-back MVC defensive player of the year got two more steals, put up eight points, pulled down five rebounds and dealt seven assists throughout.
To begin the second half, Illinois State got the lead again until Bachrodt pulled through offensively with three minutes left and a three-pointer to get the Bulldogs ahead. They led by seven going into the fourth, a lead this time Drake would keep to conclude the game thanks to Hittner, Miller.
“We just knew we had to reset ourselves and really lean on each other,” Hittner said. “I think that’s what our big thing was going into the second half and really playing together.”
Drake started off versus Missouri State Sunday taking the first quarter by one point, 22-21. The lead only changed twice in this quarter as both teams kept putting up consecutive baskets. Bachrodt started off this game with a three and kept getting stronger from there shooting four three pointers in just the first quarter out of her 18-point total game, displaying her talent on both sides of the court.
Missouri State came into the second ready for a battle and got the lead two minutes in, a lead which they would keep and extend the rest of the game. Rose and Dean then put up threes for the Bulldogs, but the Lady Bears kept their offense up and after another three of their own had a seven-point lead at the half.
“A lot of times you can get really frustrated and it’s really hard to reset but we were able to reset and then just continue to bring the fun back,” Baranczyk said. “You’ve heard me for years talking about having fun playing basketball and if we wait for the basket to go in to have fun then we’re going to be in trouble but if we can bring the fun to the game and take the scoreboard out of it and take everything else out of it then that’s when we’re at our best.”
Another three by Missouri State started off the third quarter to extend their score and lead over the Bulldogs. Despite a three from Burich and nine points from Rhine, no other Bulldogs could score and the lead for the Lady Bears jumped to a 21-point gap.
Rhine continued her scoring run for Drake with a jumper to immediately begin Drake’s scoring streak. Rose and Dean followed going two-for-two on each of their threes and Miller put up another three to dwindle the lead to 12 points. Both teams kept putting up shots and fouls alike to keep the lead for Missouri State at an 11-point average for the last five minutes in the fourth, but Drake couldn’t pull the stops defensively to get it under 10. The Lady Bears took the championship game 94-79 in the end, earning themselves a spot in post-season play, but that still didn’t stop Drake for making March Madness.
“We’re hungrier than ever,” Baranczyk said after getting the at-large bid. “We’re ready and really excited that we get to play close enough to home that our fans get to come with us, and I think that’s a significant part of what we do. It’s going to be really fun to have that.”
After an early leak of NCAA Tournament teams, it was released that Drake earned its fourth at-large bid for the post-season as a No. 10 seed for their third straight NCAA appearance. In their loss against Mizzou, both teams never let off steam keeping it neck and neck for all four quarters and overtime.
“This one’s really painful,” Baranczyk said. “Hats off to Missouri and what a great game and great environment for women’s basketball.”
Missouri first put points up on the board in the first with a layup before Hittner and Dean got back-to-back threes. After a three by Miller, Drake had a five-point lead over Mizzou with six minutes left in the first before the Tigers regained ground and took the quarter 21-16.
The entire game had a total of 14 ties and 12 lead changes, but it wasn’t enough for the Bulldogs. Hittner and Rhine led Drake, Hittner getting 19 points and Rhine 18, Rhine’s blocked shot with two seconds left took the team into overtime.
Both teams were trading threes, first Bachrodt then Mizzou then Monahan and Missouri again, and after a jumper by Missouri Hittner nailed a three to give Drake the 73-72 advantage with 1:38 left. After Rhine tied it with a free throw once Missouri regained the lead, Hittner fouled a three shot with less than a second left. Only one free throw was made, but that one point was enough to end the Bulldogs’ amazing 2018-19 season.
Bachrodt, Dean, Jonas and Miller finished their Drake basketball careers with a total of 124 wins, five MVC titles and NCAA tickets the past three seasons. They each individually aided Drake and helped the Bulldogs travel far.