Taking the happy to Holland

773

Trotting back on defense, Ellie Pearson lifted her hand to her mouth. She couldn't hide the smile.

To her right was fellow senior Kathleen Molloy, but she wasn't hiding it.

The duo knew with less than a minute and a half left against Christopher Newport University, and a 22 point lead, the game was all but over.

In the next 30 seconds, both seniors were taken out of the game, and for Pearson, there greeted her a hug from head coach Kris Huffman. It was then the accomplishment became reality: the Tigers earned themselves a trip to the NCAA Division III semifinals, and will be headed to Holland, Mich., to fight for the program's second national title.

"It was disbelief," Pearson said of the final minute of the game. "I knew we could do it, but it just set in that it was really going to happen. You work so hard for it, and that's why you do the summer workouts, and that's why you work your butt off in practice, and for your work to payoff is the coolest feeling ever."

DePauw went on to down the Captains, 76-55, Saturday evening in the Neal Fieldhouse before a near-capacity crowd. This is the third time in program history DePauw advanced to the semifinals (2002, 2007), and the Tigers did it in another dominating fashion. Ellie Pearson had a career-high 21 points, and so did sophomore Savannah Trees. Two other players scored in double figures.

With the win, the senior class has a chance to be the winningest class in school history with two more wins.

The two wins would include a title.

"These three have meant so much to me," Huffman said of her three seniors, sitting with her in the post-game press conference. "I've never wanted it more for a group than I have wanted it for these three. Those hugs were very special."

It was a slow go from the outset for the Tigers against Christopher Newport as DePauw began 0-6 from the field. The Captains jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead.

Then senior Kate Walker posted the first points of the game with a step-back 3 pointer almost three and a half minutes into the contest. A minute later, Pearson tallied her first points of the game after she backed down her defender into the low post, and turned around to give DePauw its first lead of the game.

The Captains regained the lead on the next possession, and then Ali Ross converted a layup on the other end for the 7-6 lead.

After a defensive stance, Kate Walker penetrated the Christopher Newport defense, driving to the left side of the paint. The senior - who with her 120th start broke a school record for career starts - found a wide-open Pearson on the right for an uncontested layup underneath the hoop.

After eight minutes, the Tigers lead was 11-8, and then began a scoring run DePauw has become accustomed to.

It began with an Erin McGinnis offensive rebound and put-back, and over the next three minutes, the Tigers went on a 10-2 scoring run backed by six points from Trees.

"We tried to play hard and match their intensity, and try and keep them off the board," Captains head coach Bill Broderick said. "Once the tide turned a little bit we gave up more offensive boards and we had a lot of good looks inside that we didn't finish. That lead just kept growing a little bit."

DePauw went into halftime leading 38-25, and Pearson already tallied 14 points on 6-7 shooting. The Tigers shot 55.6 percent from the field and scored 10 points off of eight Captains turnovers.

In the second, Christopher Newport cut DePauw's lead to eight after a short 6-1 run in the opening three minutes. The Tigers slowly piled on their lead, starting with an Alex Gasaway fadeaway jumper in the lane that pushed the lead back to 10. Trees then drilled a 15-foot jumper from the left wing off of a Kate Walker screen.

The sophomore point guard finished 7-11 from the field.

"We think she has a pretty good jump shot, so she has the green light to explore opportunities," Huffman said of Trees.

With DePauw leading 64-51 with four and a half minutes remaining, the Tigers went on an 11-2 run over the next three minutes for a 22 point lead.

"DePauw played to a caliber today that we haven't seen," Captains forward Nicole Mitchell said. "They just play so hard and they are so smart and we weren't reading the offenses the best we could have."

Broderick added, "It's the first time where we've seen a top 5 program and kind of their speed and intensity that they played with. I think we weren't able to match them for 40 minutes."

All of Huffman's starters were taken off the floor 53.3 seconds left in the game with the 22 point lead.

DePauw shot 52.0 percent from the field to Christopher Newport's 43.6. The Tigers outrebounded the Captains, 33-14, and held the edge in offensive boards, 9-8.

DePauw will face Williams College on Friday in the first ever matchup between the two programs. Williams downed Whitman College on Saturday evening, 63-53.

"This something I've worked for since I touched the ball in third grade," Walker said of the semifinal on Friday. "This is what you dream of, and nothing is going to match it."