Bearcats Barely Lose to Whitworth in Season Finale, 77-73

SALEM, OR — It may have been the finale for the Willamette University women’s basketball team, but it was also a sign of things to come as the Bearcats fell in their final game of the season, 77-73, to the Northwest Conference’s second place team, the Whitworth Pirates.

Vanessa Wyffels, who will lead Division III women’s basketball in field goal percentage, scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. The junior hit 10-11 shots from the field as she continues to hover around the 74% shooting mark for the season.

Freshman Julia Short scored a career-high 24 points to lead the Bearcats in scoring. Jennifer Bell hit for 16 and Laura Payne chipped in with 11 points and five assists.

As they did in Salem earlier this year, the Bearcats took the early lead on Whitworth. This time the Bearcats scored the first 12 points and had the lead as high as 22-9 before the Pirates came back to trail by just a point at 32-31. The Bearcts held on to a 46-41 halftime lead.

Julia Short drained a three-pointer to give Willamette a 51-45 lead early in the second half, but then the Bucs took control with a 17-0 run. Three seniors playing in their final home game, Tiffany Speer, Sarah Shogren and Dani Bielec scored all 17 of the points. Bielec finished the run with a three-pointer that gave the Bucs a 62-51 lead with 14:15 to play.

The Bearcats fought back to pull within 3 at the 4:38 mark after a Short jumper. But Whitworth scored the next four points and made their free throws down the stretch to hold off the upset-minded Bearcats.

For Willamette, which played the top teams in the NWC tough all season, the season ends at 8-17 with an improving 5-11 mark in the NWC. Coach Tom Steers will bring back his entire team next season.

For the 22-3 Pirates, they await the DIII tournament selection on Sunday as they seek an at-large bid to the tournament. The University of Puget Sound wins the NWC this season.