EWU women 'find way' for key wins
EWU senior Aubrey Ashenfelter delivered key plays in the final seconds of the Eagles' 61-60 women's basketball win over Portland State.
The Eastern Washington women might just be late-bloomers.
With their 0-5 start to the season very much a vanishing image in their rearview mirror, the Eagles have won six of their last seven games following a tense 61-60 win at Portland State Monday and a 59-54 triumph over Southern Utah last Thursday at home.
Now Eastern, 10-6 in Big Sky play and 14-11 overall will close out the Reese Court portion of the regular season with games Thursday, Feb. 27 versus Northern Colorado (8-9 Big Sky, 14-12 overall) at 6:05 p.m. and current league-leader, North Dakota (13-4, 18-8), Saturday at 2:05 p.m.
The Eagles will say goodbye to their two seniors, Aubrey Ashenfelter and Laura Hughes, prior to the start of Saturday's contest.
Ashenfelter came up with huge plays on both ends of the floor late in the PSU game, first with Eastern trailing 60-59 with 37 seconds to play she blocked the Vikings' Delanie Parry's 3-point attempt. Ashenfelter then chased down the loose ball and scored on a lay in with five seconds remaining for the winning basket.
Portland State (4-12, 6-19) got a final possession but their long-range 3 from Emily Easom missed as time expired at the Stott Center.
"I'm really proud of our kids for being resilient and finding a way to win," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "I'm also really happy for Aubrey," a 2010 graduate of Portland's Southridge High.
Ashenfelter had 11 points on the night on 5-of-12 shooting from the field and added a game-high nine rebounds. Sophomore Hayley Hodgins led all scorers with 17 points, including 3 3-pointers. Junior Lexie Nelson also had 11 and freshman Jade Redmon 10.
"For her to come back to her hometown and make the plays that she did, and that it was her last opportunity to do so," Schuller said of Ashenfelter. "We just talked about being aggressive and making a play on that defensive possession, and Aubrey really took that to heart."
Portland State took their initial lead of the game on Mikaela Rivard's 3-point shot in the first two minutes of the contest but that was the last time the Vikings would be ahead until the final 5:52 with Easom's pair of free throws that put her team ahead 50-48. McFadden and Rivard led Portland State with 13 points apiece
Keaton McFadden made a jumper with 46 seconds to play, giving the Vikings a 60-57 lead but a Melissa Williams basket with 37 seconds to go closed it to 60-59, setting up Ashenfelter's heroics.
Eastern shot 42 percent from the field on the night but made just 5 of 21 3-point tries. The Eagles limited Portland State to 35 percent shooting, including a paltry 23-percent in the first half where the Eagles led 26-17 at the break.
The Vikings hit 13 of their 15 free throw attempts to keep the game close down the stretch.
"I thought in the first half, we were the more physical team," Schuller said. "We got a little too passive in the second half."
Thursday night, the Eagles got 17 points from Nelson, including four 3-point shots. They got solid numbers from both 3-point range with seven makes and going 16-of-22 from the free throw line. That rescued the Eagles who shot just 39.1 percent from the field, their worst shooting performance in Reese Court this season.
Hodgins added 12 points and seven rebounds while Redmon scored in double figures for the fourth time in five games with 11 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the free throw line. Hailey Mandelko scored a game-high 19 points for the T-Birds (11-5, 17-8).
The game featured 14 lead changes but the Eagles sealed it in the final 19 seconds when Ashenfelter, Hodgins and Redmon combined to make five of Eastern's last six free throws.
"We knew it was going to be a battle just as it was in Cedar City the first time," Schuller said. "I thought we had some players step up and make big plays and we had some key defensive plays that ignited us and gave us some baskets that were hard to come by."
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.