HIBBING — With her team trailing Rainy River for most of the game, Bethany Baldwin decided to take matters into her own hands.
Baldwin, a 5-foot, 8-inch freshman guard from Watersmeet, Mich., and the leading scorer for the Hibbing Community College women’s basketball team, knew her team needed a spark and she hoped she was able to provide that. After Rainy River spark plug Faitress Shaw fouled out with 4:44 remaining, coincidentally or not it was the time when Baldwin took over the game.
Baldwin scored with 4:18 left to give the Cardinals the lead for good and she would score Hibbing’s next eight points to extend the Hibbing lead. When the final horn sounded, Hibbing had outscored the Voyageurs 27 to 12 in the final quarter and the Cardinals came away with a hard-fought 79-68 victory in semifinal action in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region XIIIB Women’s Basketball Tournament which is being conducted at the HCC Events Center.
With the win, the Cardinals advance to the Region championship game today at 1 p.m. at the HCC Events Center against either No. 2 seed Northland Community College out of Thief River Falls, or No. 3 seed Central Lakes College out of Brainerd.
“I just thought about my team and how hard we have worked these past five months,” said Baldwin. “We didn’t come all this way for nothing so I really wanted to just play my game for my girls and we got the W. When we were behind, I was nervous honestly but we had to stay together because that’s the team that wins, the one that stays together.
“We kept our heads in the game, we encouraged one another and we stuck together.”
Rainy River coach Dieter Humbert said it was tough to stop the Cardinals down the stretch as his team tried to protect its lead.
“(Baldwin) is an outstanding player and we did everything we could to contain her for as long as we could,” said Humbert. “But once she got it going it was tough. We tried to mix it up a little bit but we were challenged defensively because we were in foul trouble. Hats off to Bethany and her team, they are a great basketball team.”
Cardinals coach Kate Brau said Baldwin has been an outstanding player for Hibbing all season long and she said one thing she is outstanding at is attacking in the paint.
“That was something we certainly wanted to exploit against Rainy River today and in the first three quarters we just did not do well at that,” Brau said. “Bethany was solid for 40 minutes and we figured it out and through her sound play we came out on top.”
Hibbing, with the No. 1 seed in the tournament, had to battle against a competitive and sharp Rainy River team the entire game. The Cardinals jumped out to an 8-2 lead early but led by just 18-17 after one quarter. The game remained close in the second quarter as Rainy River took a 35-34 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Those who thought it would be just a matter of time and that Hibbing would come out torching Rainy River in the second half had another thing coming. The Voyageurs had the better of the play in the third quarter and took a 56-52 advantage into the fourth quarter.
Hibbing still was struggling to find a flow offensively most of the fourth quarter and after a bucket from Rainy Rivers’ Shaw, the Voyageurs led 64-59 with under seven minutes to play.
That’s when the Cardinal resurgence began. Shauna Kavajecz hit a free throw, Hannah Morris scored a bucket and then Sherae’ Cherenfant hit a free throw and Hibbing trailed by just one point, at 64-63 with 4:44 remaining in the contest. This is when Baldwin took over the game.
Baldwin put Hibbing ahead for good with a basket with 4:18 to play, scored another basket 20 seconds later and then added a pair of free throws as Hibbing led 69-64 with 3:10 left. But Baldwin wasn’t done yet as she nailed another bucket with 2:21 left to put Hibbing ahead 71-64 and extend the HCC scoring run to 12 points. A basket from the Voyageurs’ Meoshia Peterson ended the scoring run but the Cardinals led 71-66 with 2:01 remaining.
The Cardinals then went on a small run to basically put the game away. Hannah Morris scored a bucket with 1:37 left and Baldwin and Cherenfant each nailed a free throw as HCC had a nine-point lead with 49 seconds left. Rainy River was unable to make a run from there as HCC held on for the win.
Brau said Rainy River had picked up some losses at the end of the regular season but on Saturday as she said the Voyageurs played an outstanding game.
“Rainy River came to play today and it was a great lesson for our team that in March Madness anything can happen and you have to withstand those kind of punches from other teams,” Brau said. “Rainy River shot the ball well, they rebounded well for three quarters and it was something that we had to endure and focus on 40 minutes of play. Ultimately we did outrebound them and boarded big misses by Rainy River down the stretch to seal this win.”
Humbert said the fact his team was in foul trouble and that he has a short rotation caused problems in the fourth quarter with fatigue.
“You have to play at a high level and a hard level and depth is definitely a huge factor,” Humbert said. “It took its toll on us. They started getting some big rebounds and put-backs and those are always killers. But I am very proud of my team because they left it all out on the floor. I really feel that today Hibbing beat us and we didn’t beat ourselves.
“It was just a heck of a basketball game and I was proud to be part of something like that. We might have four of the top 10 teams in the country in our Northern Division. It is really loaded with talent this year.”
Baldwin scored 26 points to pace Hibbing in scoring and she also pulled down eight rebounds. Sherae’ Cherenfant scored 16 points, snatched 14 rebounds and dished out six assists while Alexis Desjarlait had 13 points and nine rebounds. Hannah Morris also scored 13 points and Shauna Kavajecz added seven.
Daeja Monroe scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for Rainy River. Perrisha Cox scored 16, Shaw, 10, Davane Gross, nine, and Peterson added seven.
Brau said Rainy River fielded a small lineup which featured speed and a fast pace and that worked for the Voyageurs for three quarters. She said her team chipped away and collected fouls from Rainy River which put the Voyageurs in foul trouble.
“For them to get into foul trouble with their short bench, it is why we outscored them 27-12 in the fourth quarter,” Brau explained. “It certainly was a good lesson that teams will come out with their best at tournament time for our team. That being said, one thing that we have been concerned is that we haven’t had close games all season so we weren’t sure how our team would handle that.
“They came out with character when it was gut-check time and they went out and won this.”
Asked what her team needs to do to come away with the championship, Baldwin said, “I think we have a lot of advantages having home court, and this win is going to help us a lot. We are ready for the whole weekend.”
When asked what the Cardinals need to do today to come away with a region championship, Brau said, “Preparation starts right now watching the other semifinal game. Then we need to make sure that we eat good food tonight and that we get to bed early. We have to stick to our game moving forward tomorrow and we are prepared for either team. It comes down to staying together, playing as a team and making plays down the stretch.
“It’s a big day. I’ve told this team all season long that with hard work and commitment, success can happen. So, this is what we have been playing for all season long. It was the goal to be No. 1 in the region and then to host the region tournament and to have the best shot to go to the national tournament.”
Rainy River 17 18 21 12—68
Hibbing 18 16 18 27—79
Rainy River: Meoshia Peterson 7, Davane Gross 9, Faitress Shaw 10, Perrisha Cox 16, Daeja Monroe 20, Janet Humbert 4, Jaiyanna Thomas 2.
Hibbing: Sherae’ Cherenfant 16, Bethany Baldwin 26, Alexis Desjarlait 13, Hannah Morris 13, Shauna Kavajecz 7, Klaryssa Whelan 4.
Total Fouls: RR 22; HCC 12; Fouled Out: Shaw; 3-pointers: RR, Peterson, Monroe 2; HCC, Cherenfant, Baldwin, Desjarlait, Morris, Kavajecz; Free throws: RR 11-of-13; HCC 16-of-25.