Women’s basketball makes improbable comeback at Julie Cosello Memorial Classic

Irwin made a game-changing three point shot.  calvin.edu
Irwin made a game-changing three point shot. calvin.edu

The Calvin College women’s basketball team traveled to Crestview Hills, Ky., over Thanksgiving break for the annual Julie Cosello Memorial Classic. The Knights went 2-0 on the weekend, but the two wins did not come without a scare. Calvin overcame a 12 point deficit to defeat the host Thomas More College Saints 84-75 in overtime Friday, Nov. 23. Less than 24 hours later, the Knights handled Centre College 76-48.

In the matchup with Thomas More, Calvin jumped out to an early lead. Two jumpers from senior forward Ally Wolffis gave the Knights a 6-3 lead. Six points from Kayla Engelhard extended Calvin’s lead to 13-9.

The Saints took their first lead at the 9:02 mark of the first half on a three pointer from senior guard Jill Brunsman. Two more buckets from Engelhard and a three pointer from senior guard Kelsey Irwin pushed the Knight lead back to five points. Calvin would hold this lead into halftime with the score reading 25-20.

Calvin shot 46.4 from the field in the first half while holding Thomas More to a mere 20 percent from the field.

The second half was a half of runs. Calvin opened up with a 9-2 run fueled by four more points from Engelhard. The Knights led by 12 with 15:18 to play in regulation.

Then came the run from Thomas More. The double-digit lead that Calvin had built was gone in less than four minutes. The Saint kept pouring it on. A free throw from junior Devin Beasley gave Thomas More a 12 point lead with 2:52 remaining in regulation.

Calvin did not bow out. A steal from senior Logan Marsh sparked the Knights’ comeback. Four turnovers by the Saints gave Calvin a chance to tie the game. After Engelhard hit five of six free throws, the Knights found themselves down a single possession, 69-66, with a minute to play.

After a timeout from Thomas More head coach Jeff Hans, the Saints earned a trip to the free throw line with 34 seconds to play. Junior Katie Kitchen missed both free throws, and Calvin senior center Carissa Verkaik corralled the rebound.

Sophomore forward Breanna Verkaik missed a three pointer than would have tied the game. Thomas More freshmen forward Alexa Santamaria got the rebound. A key steal from Marsh gave the Knights back possession. Carissa Verkaik missed a three pointer with 13 seconds to go. Her younger sister, Breanna Verkaik, grabbed the rebound, and found Irwin spotting up for a jump shot.

Irwin is exactly who Calvin fans want to have the ball in this situation. Irwin delivered, nailing the game-tying three point basket with nine seconds to play.

With all the momentum, Calvin outscored Thomas More 15-6 in overtime, marking the greatest comeback for a women’s basketball team in recent memory.

“I think both teams came out very sluggish in the first half. We got a good lead in the second half, and before you know it, we’re down by ten,” said head coach John Ross after the game. “We couldn’t get the ball inside, we weren’t hitting shots, and we weren’t defending. Then, we went to a press, picked up a little energy, and Kelsey Irwin hit a big three at the end. Kayla had a career game from an offensive scoring point, it was good to see her do that. Give our team a lot of credit for battling and battling.”

Engelhard scored a career-high 37 points on 12 of 19 shooting. The sophomore also went 13 of 14 from the charity stripe. Carissa Verkaik tallied the 40th double-double of her already storied career, scored 16 points while grabbing 17 rebounds. Irwin was the last Knight to hit double-digits, scoring 11 points.

Thomas More was led by Beasley, who tallied 27 points. Senior guard Allsion Long and Kitchen chipped in 18 and 15 points respectively.

Calvin shot nearly 50 percent from the field, 49.2 percent, in the contest. Thomas More shot 28.9 percent.

The matchup with Centre never materialized. Calvin dominated from start to finish en route to a 28-point victory. The Colonels led just once, 2-0, 45 seconds into the game. Calvin, using consecutive steals and layups form Engelhard, went on a 14-2 run. Centre could not close the gap, and the Knights led 34-19 at halftime.

Irwin led Calvin with nine points at the break. Carissa Verkaik chipped in eight points and three rebounds.

In the second half, Calvin continued to expand its lead as each member of the team saw playing time. Freshman Abby Springer chipped in seven points off the bench in just six minutes of play, while senior Heather DeKleine added five of her eight points in the second half.

Ultimately, Calvin was again led by Carissa Verkaik and Engelhard tallying 20 and 14 points respectively. Wolffis, despite scoring only three points, grabbed 12 rebounds.

Centre was led by junior forward Paige Baechle who scored 15. She was the lone Colonel in double figures.

“We had a lot of people step up and shoot well today, which was good to see,” said head coach John Ross just before getting on the bus heading back to Grand Rapids. “I think we did a great job defensively, especially in the first half, when we held them to 19 points. [Before Albion on Wednesday], we just need to get some rest after playing five games in nine days. Albion is one of the best coached teams in the country, we just have to be ready to play a really good team on Wednesday, and at their place, it is never an easy place to win.”

Since the comeback, Calvin opened up MIAA conference play with a win at Albion Wednesday night. Engelhard and Carissa Verkaik paced the Knights with 17 and 14 points respectively.

Calvin, now 5-1 on the season, will play three more MIAA contests before heading out to Colorado after Christmas. There Calvin will face Colorado College and Concordia.

About the Author

Mitch Blankespoor

Mitch Blankespoor is a Chimes staff writer for the 2012-13 school year.

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