By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
An exclusive Walters ‘n Words blog
Wait…did I say I was worried about the Charger women? Yeah, I kind of did.
I still don’t like losing to Northern Michigan, a so-so team with a few good guards, when you’re ranked No. 5 in the country, but maybe you can chalk that loss up to one of three things: a cross-country caravan, also known as a looooong trip to Da Yoop (I can call it what I want since I spent four years of my life up there), maybe they were looking ahead just a tad, especially after getting out to such a big lead on the Wildcats, or luck and a momentum swing coupled with the other two was just enough.
Two days later it doesn’t matter, well not in a major way at least, because the Chargers exorcised seven years worth of Husky demons in a 98-91 win. Don’t waste your time re-reading that score, it’s not the men’s team we’re talking about, and yes the Chargers nearly hit the century mark.
That’s what will happen when Brooke Knight puts up 20 points and six assists, Janay Miller contributes 14 points. And…what the heck Eck is all I’ve got to say. Senior forward Katie Eckinger, an important cog in the team’s dynamic, but just a 7.9 points per game scorer, went off for a career-high 20 points. And if that’s not enough, she added five rebounds and five assists, without a single turnover.
That is just the type of performance that builds confidence and maybe Eck will get a few more touches down the stretch, just another option on a team that is proving increasingly difficult to gameplan for.
Other than scoring from all over the place what I like most about this win is the fact the Chargers commited just three turnovers in a hostile environment in maybe their biggest game of the season to date. The Huskies had just seven turnovers and both teams shot better than 53 percent from the field, so this was one of heck of a contest played extremely well by two of the nation’s best and the Chargers came out on top.
Oh, and by the way Katie Cezat had 30 points and only 18 boards. Sorry I wouldn’t want forget to remind you she had just another average day. She had 21 of those points in the second half though after missing several point-blank shots in the opening half.
Now the day trip back from Houghton will be all smiles and fun. The ladies should celebrate this win and be proud, but I still don’t like a loss to the Wildcats on this roadtrip with a No. 1 regional ranking at stake.
My worries are eased though and I’ll admit maybe my concern was just a bit flukey and I need to remember to look at bodies of work and not individual instances. Although, in one-and-done situations that all that it takes.
Here’s the entire game recap courtesy of Hillsdale College Sports Information:
Two of the best women’s basketball teams in the nation squared off in Houghton, Michigan Saturday afternoon, and both played up to their gaudy records. And it was Hillsdale College who came up with unquestionably their biggest win of this memorable season.
Thanks to a brilliant second half on offense and clutch play by everyone on the court, Hillsdale defeated the No. 16 Michigan Tech University Huskies 98-89 in an intense game at the SDC Gymnasium. The Chargers are now 22-3 overall and 17-3 in the GLIAC, tied for first place with the Huskies in the overall conference standings.
Hillsdale also clinched the GLIAC South Division championship for the second year in a row with the victory. If Hillsdale and Northwood were to finish tied for first in the division, the Chargers win the top spot by virtue of their season sweep of the Timberwolves.
It was the first win for the Chargers at Michigan Tech since Jan. 10, 2002.
Playing in one of the loudest and most hostile arenas in the country, the Chargers played with poise and toughness, particularly in the second half when they scored nearly as many points as Michigan Tech averages giving up per game.
Hillsdale outscored Michigan Tech 59-44 in the second half. The Huskies average giving up 56.6 points per game, first in the GLIAC. The Chargers shot 20-for-30 from the field (66.7 percent) in the second half, and were 17-for-22 from the free throw line in the game’s final 20 minutes.
Keying the offensive explosion for the Chargers was, as usual, senior Katie Cezat. But in this game, the Chargers benefited from a pair of career-high scoring performances from two very valuable players on this year’s team.
Senior forward Katie Eckinger scored a career-high 20 points, 11 coming in the first half. Her outside shooting was key in the first half, helping the Chargers to stay close to a Michigan Tech team that was playing well off the emotion generated from its home crowd. Eckinger was a brilliant 8-for-11 from the field, and had five rebounds and five assists in the finest all-around game of her career.
Senior guard Brooke Knight, who does a little of everything to help the Chargers win games, put a new shot from her repertoire out in this game to give Hillsdale a key swing in momentum.
Knight hit a shot from five feet behind half court at the first-half buzzer that seemed to inject the Chargers with the energy they needed in this gym. Knight’s shot came right after a four-point play by Michigan Tech’s Sarah Stream with 1.8 seconds left in the first half that gave Michigan Tech a temporary nine-point lead.
But Knight’s shot not only sparked her offense (17 second-half points), but was the start of a 15-3 Hillsdale run that spilled over into the first part of the second half, when the Chargers seized control of the contest.
Knight finished with 20 points, three rebounds and six assists while once again, playing all 40 minutes of the contest. Thanks in part to Knight’s ball-handling, the Chargers set a team record for fewest turnovers in a game, with three. The old record was nine, set on two different occasions.
Cezat, facing some of the best defensive pressure she has by any team, playing another outstanding game. She had 30 points, 18 rebounds and four assists. Twenty-one of her points came in the second half.
The first half was extremely well-played by both teams, with a total of just five turnovers being committed by the two squads. Tech was red-hot throughout the first half, shooting 58 percent from the field.
Hillsdale wraps up the regular season at home next week, hosting Tiffin University Thursday night, and Ashland University on Saturday, Feb. 28.