On Saturday evening, they had the University of Rochester and the hordes of partisan fans who crowded into Rochester's Palestra seeing double.
By the time the final whistle sounded, Baecher and Rainer had combined for 40 points to lead the No. 19 Ephs (24-5, 9-1 NESCAC) past the Yellowjackets (20-7, 11-3 UAA) and into next weekend's Round of 16 of the NCAA tournament. The Ephs will be making their first appearance in the sectional semifinals since 2010, when they dropped a 71-66 decision to archrival Amherst. This time around, they'll take on either No. 21 Ithaca or unranked Smith, who defeated the Ephs by a 53-49 count in Northampton five weeks ago.
Neither team managed to control play for any sustained stretch in the first half. In the opening minutes, Rochester did appear primed to build up an early advantage after Ally Zywicki fed Danielle McNabb at the top of the key for a three-pointer that gave the Yellowjackets a 13-6 lead with 14:30 to go. The Ephs quickly responded when Baecher started to drive to the hoop before turning and firing to Rainer, who hit the midrange jumper; however, Breana Madrazo answered right back for Rochester with nice move under the hoop to shake off Ellen Cook followed by a deft underhanded shot off the glass to make it 15-8 with 7:37 gone by in the half.
"We started off a little slow," said Williams coach Pat Manning. "Rochester's a very good team--they have a great post game. Early on, I don't think we defended their inside [players] too well. We were really giving up some easy baskets."
As it turned out, the seven-point lead was the largest the Yellowjackets would enjoy all the night, as the Eph defense stiffened and kept Rochester from establishing a sustained presence in the paint. Meanwhile, the Williams shooters resolutely chipped away at the deficit without ever launching into a sustained run. The Ephs showed off their depth during the comeback, at one point getting four baskets from four players thanks to a pair of hard-nosed drives from Baecher and Grace Rehnquist, an incisive pass from Katie Litman to a cutting Cook for a layup and a putback by Rainer following a Cook miss in transition.
The last of those four plays pulled the Ephs within one at 21-20 with 7:36 to play in the period. Exactly two minutes later, the Ephs knotted things up when some slick perimeter passing ended with Rainer finding Baecher with just enough space along the far sideline to knock down a three to make it 23-23. On the ensuing Yellowjacket trip up the court, Rainer pulled down an Amy Woods miss, carried the ball up the court, pulled up near the paint and fired an outlet pass to none other than Baecher, who drained her second three in 26 seconds to give the Ephs a 26-23 lead, their first since Baecher's opening-minute trey gave them a fleeting 3-2 advantage.
The Yellowjackets were far from stunned, however, and evened the score on their next possession courtesy of an Ally Zywicki three-pointer that tied the score once more at 26-26 with 4:52 to play in the period.
Just as the pace of the game--and the scoring--looked to be picking up, both teams fell into a scoring slump and combined to miss all of their field goal attempts for the next 4:06. Paige Aleski finally broke the run of misses with a three-pointer that represented the culmination of some great inside-out passing from the Yellowjackets and gave them a 30-28 lead that would last into halftime.
Although it was Rochester that got off the schneid prior to the break while Williams went without a field goal for the final 5:10 of the period, it was the Ephs who came out firing to start the second. Jennie Harding, who was scoreless in the first half, gave the Ephs the lead when she collected a pass from Rainer on the run, stopped on a dime and launched an arcing three that made the score 31-30 just 47 seconds into the half.
A pair of solid efforts down low from Kellie Macdonald soon pushed the Eph advantage out to five with 16:17 left in the game, but the Williams shooters had difficulty breaking through a stout Yellowjacket defensive unit and failed to score another point for the next three minutes.
Fortunately for the Ephs, their defense more than made up for their cold shooting. In fact, the Ephs held Rochester without a single point for over seven minutes to start the final period, as an energetic one-on-one approach frequently forced the Yellowjackets to take off-balance shots with the shot clock winding down. Overall, the Yellowjackets missed 15 consecutive shots before Kristyn Wright nailed a three from in front of her bench to trim the gap to 38-34 with 12:27 to play.
At that point, the tempo of the game abruptly picked up, with the gap fluctuating between two and four points over the next four minutes. Both teams ran the floor well during the interval, with highlights coming from slicing drives straight up the gut by Cook and Aleski for their respective squads.
With 8:29 to play, Rehnquist broke the uneasy rhythm with a three from several feet behind the arc that doubled the Williams lead to 47-41. On the Ephs' next trip up the court, Rehnquist again made the difference, this time pushing the break following a Baecher rebound and finding Rainer for an easy layup and an eight-point lead, the largest of the night for either team to that point.
"We started to run," said Manning, who urged her team to eschew tempo-slowing set plays midway through the half. "We started to play at a faster pace, which was really our goal initially."
Once again, the two teams then engaged in a bout of bucket-trading that panned over four minutes. Baecher and Rainer providing most of the scoring for the Ephs while the ensemble of McNabb, Madrazo, Wright, Jackie Walker and Woods shared the scoring duties for the Yellowjackets and kept the host side in the game. In fact, Woods' pair of free throws with 3:40 left brought Rochester within four at 55-51, the closest they'd been since Rehnquist's three. Half a minute later, McNabb returned from a brief spell on the bench and sank a long two to make it a one-possession game with 3:10 to go.
After Rainer and Zywicki scored offsetting baskets, the Ephs led with under half a minute to go when Rainer took matters into her own hands. The 6'1" forward received a pass behind the arc near the Eph bench, paused, then started an arcing drive that carried her around her defender and straight to the basket, where Rainer finished off the glass to make it 60-55 with a scant 1:14 to play.
"That play was really a turning point," said Manning.
At that point, the Yellowjackets still had time to mount a comeback, but another strong Eph defensive effort left McNabb no choice but to fire up a desperation three that rattled straight into Baecher's arms, giving the Ephs possession with 34.4 seconds to play. After the requisite inbounds play and foul, Harding went to the line for the Ephs to shoot one-and-one. Harding temporarily gave Rochester hope when she missed her first shot, but the ball bounced around the rim for an extra half-second longer than normal, more than enough time for Baecher to swoop in, pull down the rebound, and draw the foul. Seconds later, Baecher calmly sank both free throws to give the Ephs a 62-55 lead with 28.2 seconds left on the clock, effectively sealing the final outcome.
"We played better defensively in the second half in the paint and
rebounding," said Williams coach Pat Manning. "Rochester is big and
strong inside. They're a great team. They came after us."
"Baecher was a big difference," said Rochester coach Jim Scheible. "Not only her scoring, but she blocked shots. She negated our inside game. You can't go 0-15 in an NCAA game at this level and win."