STORY BY MICHAEL WENDLANDT
Needing one win to secure the second seed in the Missouri Valley Tournament, the Drake women took care of business by sweeping a duo of games to finish the regular season at home.
The Bulldogs finish with the best conference record since the 2001-2002 season at 15-3 and are now the second Missouri Valley team to reach 20 wins this season.
The clinch occurred Thursday night as the Bulldogs dispatched the Bradley Braves in front of the Knapp Center faithful 86-70. Drake never trailed in the game, riding big performances from Becca Jonas and Caitlin Ingle as the team shot over 53 percent from the field.
“That’s everything we want to see,” coach Jennie Baranczyk said. “There were times in the game where our offense was a clinic.”
Ingle in particular was notable in the game for her all-around contributions. The sophomore guard finished just short of her second triple-double, scoring 15 points while pulling down nine rebounds and dishing out nine assists in only 24 minutes of action.
“We were all hitting our shots and Caitlin was finding everybody,” Lizzy Wendell said after the game.
Jonas scored a game high 19-points, hitting on all nine of her shots taken from inside the three-point arc.
“Becca decided to take charge on the block and went to work,” Baranczyk said. “When she does that, our whole offense opens up.”
It took a little over a minute to get the scoring going, but Jonas got the Bulldogs started and Drake never looked back from there. They were up by double digits by the 13:13 mark and continued to control.
The lead was 12 at halftime with a score of 39-27, Drake being spearheaded by Jonas’s 10 points, several points of which resulted from Ingle’s passing, as she had five assists at the halfway mark.
The second half was more of the same as Drake extended the lead to 23 with seven and a half minutes remaining before Bradley began mounting a small comeback against Drake’s bench players, reducing the lead to 13 with just under three minutes left. However, Wendell, Ingle and Jonas returned to the floor and closed out the Braves.
Saturday afternoon was a different story as the Bulldogs wrapped up the regular season against Loyola on Senior Day.
Uncharacteristic poor shooting almost doomed the Bulldogs to their fourth conference loss of the season, Drake only connecting on 30 percent of their shots during regulation.
As the game wound down, a couple of big free throws from Loyola’s Taylor Manuel left Drake down two with just 2.8 seconds left on the clock. The Bulldogs converted.
“We had this play drawn up,” Wendell said. “Becca set a good screen and both defenders came after me, and she called for it.”
After a one-armed pass from Ingle to Wendell the defense converged on the Bulldogs’ star. Wendell then threaded the defense with a pass to Jonas in the paint. The freshman made the layup, tying the game at 61 and forcing overtime.
Those were just two of Jonas’s 19 points on the game, but they electrified an already excited crowd and Bulldogs’ team, giving Drake the momentum entering the extra period.
Two big threes from Wendell helped set the tone for overtime, the first of which resulting from a screen and an assist from Jonas. Her other three was the game winner, getting a feed from Ingle and giving Drake a two point lead with only 38 seconds left. Two free throws from Jonas and a layup from Ingle sealed the deal as Drake ended the regular season with a victory, 74-70.
This win also concluded an undefeated season for the Women’s Basketball team at home against conference opponents, a perfect record of 9-0.
For the game, Jonas led the way with a career-high 19 rebounds and scored 19 points. Wendell finished the game with a team high 20 points, while Ingle scored 13 and Maddy Dean had 11 to join them in double figures. Jonas’s rebounding helped Drake hold a considerable edge on the boards over Loyola, out-rebounding them 56-41, including 21 offensive rebounds for the team.
“I love our fight today. And I can’t say enough about what Becca did, especially as a freshman,” Baranczyk said.
After the game, there was a tribute ceremony for the four seniors in their final home game as Bulldogs. Each one of them made a speech as their team looked on, several of them in tears. For the last time Carly Grenfell, Liza Heap, Bry Mueller and Cara Lutes left the Knapp Center as victors.
“I don’t think that there’s a better group of girls to look up to as leaders on and off the court,” Jonas said after the game.
The next set of games will be held in St. Charles, Missouri for the MVC Tournament. The Bulldogs first game will be played on Friday night at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN3. Their opponent will be Evansville.