Last weekend was a mixed bag for the Cardinals, as they extended their winning streak to four games with a close victory against Bates before falling to Tufts. Then, they turned things around midweek with a resounding win against Rhode Island College, which should prepare them for a challenging end to the regular season in the coming week.
On Friday night, the Cards came out strong and led from the first basket, one of a pair of free throws from senior Maddie Bledsoe, to the final buzzer. The Bobcats attempted a fourth-quarter comeback, but the Cards did just enough to save their win. Bates kept the game close throughout the first half, which ended with Wesleyan leading 25-21. In the third quarter, the Bobcats challenged the Cards’ lead, coming within one point just over two minutes into the second half following a three-pointer from Emily Freedland. However, Wesleyan responded well, going on a 7-0 run for the final three minutes of the third quarter to hold a 42-31 lead entering the fourth.
The Cards’ eleven-point lead proved to be just enough as the Bobcats slowly chipped away at their deficit, again coming within one point with over a minute to play in the game. The Bobcats came close to claiming a come-from-behind victory when the Cardinals turned the ball over with 16 seconds remaining. Luckily, Maeve Vitale ’18 got in the way of Bates’ final offensive attempt, forcing Bobcat Nina Davenport to heave a long shot that just fell short.
Vitale explained that this close game may not have come out in their favor in years past.
“We have been able to win close games,” Vitale said, comparing this season to last year’s. “We’ve had the confidence and composure to close out games.”
Unfortunately, the Cardinals did not seem to have enough confidence on Saturday afternoon, as they traveled to Medford, Mass. to face the eighth-ranked Tufts Jumbos. The Cards played a close game for much of the first half, when there were four ties and six lead changes. Then, the Jumbos came out in full force in the second half and built a sizable lead, which eventually peaked at 17 points midway through the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals did not back down and cut the lead back down to nine, but a pair of free throws from Tufts’ Jac Knapp ended the game with a final score of 67-56, Tufts.
Wesleyan shot below their season averages in field goals and three-pointers, only making 31 percent of their field goal attempts and 26.3 percent of their shots from behind the arc. They also committed 16 turnovers, and since Tufts scored 22 points off turnovers, this made a huge difference in the final result of the game.
Still, the Cards showed their strength in the paint, outscoring the Jumbos 24-22 from inside and outrebounding them 48-40. Much of this was thanks to forwards Bledsoe and Tara Berger ’19, who led the team in rebounds with 13 and 9, respectively. Berger also added 12 points to the board for the Cardinals, second only to Olivia Gorman ’19, who led the team with 20 points.
On Tuesday night, the team continued their road trip with a game at Rhode Island College. The game started off with some exciting back-and-forth action, but Gorman made a layup toward the end of the first quarter to put the Cardinals on top, where they would stay for the rest of the game.
The Cards clearly dominated in the first half, leading the Anchorwomen 46-27 at the start of halftime. The third quarter started off with more competitive play, but a 5-0 Wesleyan run brought their lead to 60-36 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Cards started the fourth quarter up 62-40 as the Anchorwomen tried to make a comeback. They slightly closed in on the Cardinals’ lead, coming within 16 points, but the Cardinals were not shaken, finishing the fourth quarter comfortably with a 73-54 final score.
Berger was a clear standout on this weeknight matchup, recording a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Gorman and Vitale also scored in double figures, with 14 and 13 points, respectively.
With only three games left in the regular season, and all of them conference games, the Red Birds have to stay focused if they want to keep their playoff spot. They first face Trinity on Friday night. The Bantams are currently just out of playoff contention, ranked ninth in the NESCAC. They must make the most out of their remaining games if they hope to make a postseason run, so Wesleyan should prepare for an intense game.
How will the Cardinals put their best foot forward on the court? Vitale says that her team wins when they’re on their game.
“Our team is most successful when we are getting stops, running in transition, and sharing the ball so we can get easy baskets,” Vitale said.
This strategy will also come in handy next weekend when Colby and Bowdoin come to Middletown to round out the regular season. The Mules are currently ranked just below the Cardinals in the NESCAC, while the Polar Bears are ranked second. Still, each matchup is sure to be close as each team looks to gain momentum heading into the NESCAC Championship.
Rose Griffin can be reached at email@example.com.