NW WBB - vs. Minnesota Crookston 11-13-21

Northwest women's basketball players celebrate on the bench as the Bearcats claim their first win of the season with a 53-48 routing of Minnesota Crookston Nov. 13 at Bearcat Arena. 

Stepping up to the free-throw line at the west basket of Bearcat Arena with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter was Northwest guard Molly Hartnett. She, like the rest of Northwest women’s basketball, was trying to forget a season-opening loss from 24 hours prior, when the Bearcats were defeated after holding a 21-point lead in the first quarter to Southwest Minnesota State.

Clinging to a 51-48 lead against Minnesota-Crookston Saturday night, and with Harnett’s pair of free throws coming up, they were in position to do just that.

The freshman dribbled the ball in front of her feet — seemingly the only noise in Bearcat Arena — in preparation for her first free throw. She put her arms into form and released the ball toward the hoop. It was good, and Northwest led 52-48 with one more shot to go.

The sound of the ball going through the basket was met with cheers from the Northwest players and fans alike, as the reigning MIAA Freshman of the Year returned to the line for her second attempt. Routinely, she dribbled the ball, put her arms into form again and let the shot go. 53-48.

Hartnett’s free throws were the final points of the game, and Northwest picked up its first win of the season, avenging the loss from the night before.

“Our kids fought,” Northwest coach Austin Meyer said. “We made some plays down the stretch when we needed to, which was really big for this team to get that confidence going.”

“It was a big show of our character and just, like, wholeness as a team that we can bounce back from a game like that,” sophomore forward Paityn Rau said.

Northwest was forced to bounce back in more ways than one against the Eagles (0-2).

The ‘Cats (1-1) found themselves in a hole early, down 12-5 at the end of the first quarter. Northwest outscored Crookston 17-10 in the second quarter, tying the game at 22 at halftime.

“We just tried to stay positive and keep bringing energy, which is hard to do when you’re not scoring,” Meyer said.

The tie at halftime turned out to be a signal for how close the game would be the rest of the way.

At the end of the third quarter, the Bearcats were in front 37-34, with some help from a pair of 3-pointers from freshman guard Peyton Kelderman.

“She’s a high-level shooter,” Meyer said. “You have to come out on the perimeter and guard her, and then that opens up her drive. So, she’s a kid that spaces the floor for us; she’s a really confident kid, which we’re trying to get more people in that boat: playing with confidence. She made some huge plays for us.”

Rau went to high school with Kelderman in Waukee, Iowa, and said she knew what she would get from her fellow Warrior every game.

“I know she’s a baller,” Rau said. “She’s really stepped up in that role, and as a freshman that’s a hard thing to do, especially in the starting lineup.”

The 3-point lead with one quarter left did not come easy, though, as the Bearcats shot 37.5% (6-of-16) from the field.

“I thought we got good shots,” Meyer said. “Just gotta make them.”

The home team then outscored the Eagles for the third straight quarter, 16-14, securing the win.

The two squads battled all night, with three lead changes and six ties throughout the course of the contest.

Due to an injury suffered in the first game of the season to redshirt freshman starting guard Emma Atwood, which Meyer said the team was still unsure of the injury is or how serious it is, Northwest looked to its bench for help.

It may not be evident on the statsheet with 9 points from the bench, but Rau said the bench’s role in the game was crucial for the win.

“Our bench is really deep now,” Rau said. “We have so many people. It doesn’t matter who is on the bench; if they go in the game, they’re going to make a difference.”

Paving the way was Rau’s team-leading 14 points. After missing the entirety of the 2020-21 season with a torn ACL, she said it feels great to return to the court, especially in the fashion she did during the first win of the season.

“It’s been a journey to get back,” Rau said. “Our coaches were emphasizing to get the ball inside, and that was a job for me to step up in my position.”

The Bearcats will now have nine days of rest before returning to Bearcat Arena for their game against Missouri S&T Nov. 22.

“I thought we got good shots tonight,” Meyer said. “You know, we scored 27 in the first quarter last night and scored 20 the rest of the way, so we really struggled. But we got to be able to still defend, we got to be able to play with energy and not get too down on ourselves when things don’t go our way. I thought we did that (against Crookston), and we made enough plays.”

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