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Foresters wear out, dumped in 2nd round

– Coach Chris Yaw was relentless Friday, imploring his Northwestern College team at every turn to attack with the ball while pressuring those who held the ball.

The result: A 92-68 clinic in a second-round victory over Huntington that moved the Red Raiders into an Elite Eight matchup at 3 p.m. today opposite College of the Ozarks.

“We play seven players, and we were down 17 points yesterday (Thursday) before coming back to win,” Huntington coach Lori Culler said. “We might have been a little tired, a little weary, as the minutes added up.”

Huntington registered a dramatic 77-72 victory over Menlo College in the first round Thursday. The Foresters aimed to shorten Friday’s tilt by making it more of a half-court affair. The Red Raiders, however, ran early and often, piling up the points in transition.

Karen Hutson contributed 19 points and led Northwestern with eight assists, part of a 25-assist effort. Mackenzie Small paced the defensive attack with five steals.

“They trapped us on ball screens and stymied us,” Culler added.

The game represented a turnaround from a 63-62 tense first-round victory Northwestern registered in the final second of play Thursday.

“We wanted to improve from yesterday,” said senior Samantha Kleinsasser, whose 10-point first-half effort helped stake the Red Raiders to a 38-28 halftime advantage.

“We just wanted to get back to doing what we do, and that’s being aggressive at both ends.”

Kleinsasser’s classmate, Alli Engebretson, connected on 7 of 8 first-half shots, scoring 16 of her game-high 20 in the opening 20 minutes. Engebretson drove for a layup to start an 8-0 NWC run with four minutes remaining in the first half. She added a 3-pointer with 1:30 left to cap a 13-2 run that may well have helped decide the game.

Northwestern took care of the ball, committing just three turnovers in the opening stanza, while forcing the Foresters into nine miscues.

Yaw beseeched his team to contest every catch on the defensive end. He also stressed contesting shots and boxing out, details Kleinsasser noted that helped produce a 44-27 advantage on the boards.

“We know that if we defend and rebound, the offense will come,” Kleinsasser said.

Yaw cited a key steal and transition basket midway through the second half, one triggered by the pesky defense of reserve Whitney Vander Maten, who scored 12 points on Friday.

“The fun part about basketball is that it’s a team sport and kids can contribute in so many ways,” said Yaw, who improved to 10-1 as a head coach in this national tournament. “Huntington got it (the lead) down to 12 and Whitney ends up getting a steal and a basket in transition for us.”

The Foresters, who end the season 24-9, could very well be in a position to build upon this year’s Sweet 16 appearance as only senior Pazia Speed, the team’s leading scorer, won’t be back. Speed scored 11 points and handed out six assists in her final collegiate contest.

“We were picked to finish seventh in our conference and we tied for second,” said Culler, ending her 28th season at the helm. “This team overachieved all year. We did get a win here and that’s a good feeling.”

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