Christina Byler, Hendrix’s most trustworthy weapon, hit a basket with 13 seconds left in the game to nail a 65-59 Warrior victory over Austin College Friday night at Grove Gymnasium.
The win gave Hendrix sole possession of first place in the West Division of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference with one game left in the regular season. The Warriors meet Colorado College at home Sunday.
Hendrix led nearly all the game. Austin was up by 7-4 early and tied the score three times after that. But the visiting Kangaroos would not go down. Late in the game with top scorer Katy Williams held in check by Hendrix, the Austin women used 3-point shooting and turnaround jumpers by Kertsi Marusich to pull within two points three times in the closing minutes.
At 61-59, Hendrix needed a score, and Byler delivered from close in. A turnover put the ball back in Hendrix’s hands, Byler was fouled and got down a free throw for the final point.
The game was close all the way and was tied at 28 at halftime. Hendrix got up by nine points at 51-42, but Austin quickly erased most of that with a burst of seven straight points. A 3-pointer by Warrior Jordan Henderson stopped that, but the Kangaroos answered with a 3-pointer by Amber Stafford.
The action was tight the rest of the way with neither team finding openings. An edge for the Warriors was at the free throw line. They didn’t have a try in the first half then nailed 12 straight in the second half until Byler missed the second of her pair of attempts with 3 seconds left on the clock.
Hendrix coach Thad McCracken said, "We struggled toward the end, but our defense came through for us. That’s how it has been all year. Chelsea White did a heck of a job on Katy Williams (top Austin scorer for the season), especially on the last shot we tried there at the end. Both teams played good defense."
He added, "Now this takes pressure off us. We’ve got the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament."
Austin was working without head coach Debra Hunter, who was ill. It was a similar situation in the team’s earlier meeting, won by Hendrix, when McCracken was absent because of the birth of his child.
Austin assistant coach Raney Bauer said, "We had our chances but just didn’t make it. This was a good ball game, good defense. Maybe we had a little extra pressure with our coach out, but we worked through it."
Byler led the scoring with 26 points, and Anna Roan put in 17. Hendrix is 18-4 for the season and 12-3 in conference games. For Austin, 17-7 and 11-4, Williams had 16 points, Marusich 13 and Spenser Cruikshank 10.
Austin College used a streak of 16 consecutive points in the second half to break down Hendrix and take an 82-69 decision.
The Warriors had battled well, leading much of the way and taking a 38-36 lead into halftime. But the visiting Kangaroos had the upper hand on both height and depth.
Austin had already sewed up first place in the West Division of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference before coming to Hendrix.
At the halfway point of the second half, the Warriors’ Ammon Martin put in a pair of free throws. It was agonizing long before Hendrix scored again. Austin used inside shooting, accepted Hendrix turnovers, hit three free throws and nailed a 3-point goal in he run of 16 points.
Sean McQueen of Hendrix ended the Kangaroo run with a steal and a drive for a solo basket.
The Warriors stayed competitive with 3-pointers by Jesse Ford, Cal Rose and Ryan Rizos, but Austin held them off and ran out the game.
Hendrix coach Dan Priest said, "We had a stretch there in the second half when we just couldn’t score. Their press was effective, and we turned the ball over. They made use of that, and they are a good team."
Austin College moved to 19-5 for the year and 12-3 in league play. Hendrix dropped to 6-16 overall and 3-1 in SCAC action.
Kola Alade of the Kangaroos was high scorer with 28 points, 18 of those coming in the second half. Josh Saunders had 12. For Hendrix, Cal rose collected 22 points and Nick Heathscott 15.
The Warriors take on Colorado College Sunday at 2 p.m. in Grove Gymnasium.