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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Women’s basketball brings the energy in home opener against Central College

Evan Hein
Erin Lillis `24 breaks through two Central College defenders on her way to the basket during the Nov. 15 game the Pioneers lost 62-57.

Describing the appeal of watching the Grinnell women’s basketball team, Sara Booher `25 had a simple explanation — “We just bring a huge amount of energy.” 

“You’re gonna see a lot of exciting, nail-biting games,” Erin Lillis `24 said. “I think we provide a really great product on the court.”

In last Wednesday’s women’s basketball home opener against Central College, the first part of Lillis’ claim came true. The nail-biting finish did not come easily to the Pioneers, however. The 6 foot 3 inch Booher, who led the team in rebounds last season, picked up 2 personal fouls in 20 seconds, a dangerous tally so early in the game, as 5 fouls would eliminate her from play for the game. So Dana Harrold, head women’s basketball coach, substituted her out, 2 minutes and 20 seconds into the game. 

Despite Booher’s shaky start, Harrold said she did not lose faith in her. “I think the best players make the best adjustments,” Harrold said. Bailey Strovers `27 came in and grabbed four rebounds in the rest of the period, filling the role left by Booher. 

Erin Lillis `24 lays up a point as a Central College defender watches. (Evan Hein)

Booher’s night was not done, however. After sitting on the bench for the remainder of the first quarter, Harrold brought her back in with 5:56 remaining in the half. Within 11 seconds, Booher had her first points of the game off a layup assisted by Lillis, prompting the bench and Lillis to cheer her on.  In the next 2 minutes and 32 seconds, Booher scored 2 more points, made an assist and a block and recovered a rebound. 

“She just tightened up her discipline on defense,” Harrold said. “She came in, and she’s like, ‘Okay, I’m not going to foul. I’m not going to take chances. Because I want to stay in for my team.’” 

At the halfway point of the game, the Pioneers trailed the Dutch 39-30, a contrast to the Nov. 11 triumph over Crown College, in which the Pioneers led 33-18 at half and won 77-45 with Lillis’ 33 points. 

In the third quarter, however, the Pioneers quickly erased that deficit. By the end of the quarter, the Pioneers had closed the gap to a single point. The difference between the teams grew and shrunk as both sides went on point runs, but there was little to separate the two scores. With only 1:29 left in the game, Lillis dribbled past the 3-point line, eyeing the basket. Behind it, on the wall of the Darby Gymnasium, was a scoreboard that displayed a nervous tally — Guest: 57, Grinnell: 56. 

As the leading scorer of the team the past two seasons, Lillis is no stranger to making plays happen close to the basket. In this game alone, Lillis already had 23 points and a 3-pointer. With time running down, the situation she found herself in had happened many times in this game before, and it seemed that everyone, including Central’s defense, knew what was going to happen — Lillis would take a driving step past her defender and into the paint, use her speed and ball-handling ability to maneuver past whomever stood in her way next and lay it into the net. 

Central’s defensive formation indicated that they were trying to prevent that exact scenario as they kept defenders between Lillis and the basket and tried to force her wide while she slowly dribbled towards the basket from the left. Instead, as she approached her defender, Lillis forwent her usual move and dropped her left shoulder, spun around her defender and rushed towards the basket, laying it in and giving the Pioneers the lead. 

Nobody in the gym quite knew what they had just seen. The crowd erupted as fans looked at each other, hands on head, eyes wide in disbelief. The bench jumped and yelled as if they had a volume and energy quota that they desperately needed to meet. 

The excitement was short-lived, however. Central charged down the court and scored a layup to once again grab the lead, and they earned an extra free throw due to a foul on the shot. The Dutch missed the free throw, but after another foul by the Pioneers, they had two more chances. Central missed both, and Harrold called a timeout. 

After the timeout, Grinnell missed a three-pointer and quickly fouled to stop the clock, but this time, the Dutch did not miss, and both free throws passed through the rim. 

Now down 60-57, Grinnell tried to score another 3 but missed and fouled again. Central again made 2 free throws, and the score was 62-57, where it would sit for the final 12 seconds. The loss brings the Pioneer’s record to 1-1 (1 win, 1 loss).

Despite the loss, Harrold applauded her players. “We just really believed that we were as good, if not the better team,” she said. “Anytime that they do something well, they really celebrate each other and then feed off of that energy. And it’s a lot of fun to be around.” 

Last year, the Pioneers missed the Midwestern Conference (MWC) tournament after losing by three points in the last game of the season, a defeat that both Booher and Lillis said they want to rectify. 

The women’s basketball team will begin their chase of the tournament Saturday, Nov. 25 in Darby Gymnasium with their first MWC game against Lake Forest College.

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About the Contributors
Henry Horn
Henry Horn, Staff Writer
Henry Horn is a second-year history major from Pasadena, California. He likes riding his bike, listening to songs that don't belong together, and watching soccer. He can easily be bribed with Hot Tamales or a bloody mary sandwich with no tomato but with jalapeños from Jay's Deli.
Evan Hein, Staff Photographer
Evan is a second-year psychology major from Kansas City, Kansas. He once had to ask his friends to describe him in one word for a psych project. 33% of the twenty-five descriptive responses were the word “ginger,” followed by a small chortle.
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