by Greg Chandler
With the Hope College women's basketball team clinging to a one-point lead late in Saturday night's MIAA Tournament championship game, juniors Ashleigh Thomas and Kenedy Schoonveld came up with clutch plays that spelled the difference.
First, Thomas tied up Trine University's All-MIAA forward, Tara Bieniewicz, causing a held ball and giving the Flying Dutch the ball back on the alternating possession.
Seconds later, Schoonveld nailed a step-back, 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Hope a four-point lead with two minutes remaining. That would be enough for Hope to hold off the Thunder, 59-55, in front of a raucous crowd of 1,804 fans at DeVos Fieldhouse, for their 15th MIAA tournament championship.
The second-ranked Flying Dutch, now 27-0, now wait for the NCAA Division III selection show on Monday, March 2 at 2:30 p.m. on ncaa.com. Trine is 21-6 with of those losses to Hope after sweeping three games from the Flying Dutch last season.
Photos by Steve Herppich
"I thought the jump ball by Ashleigh was a tough (play). That's one thing we've asked Ashleigh to do. We haven't asked Ashleigh to score and tonight she saved our bacon," Hope coach Brian Morehouse said. "We ask her to do the tough things – defend, rebound, move the ball, be a great screen-setter, get on the offensive glass, get putbacks … I thought Ashleigh stepped up to the pressure today and played fabulous basketball. Her toughness in getting that jump ball got us the possession.
"Then Kenedy hit (the shot). When she hit that, I looked at my staff and said, 'We're not losing.'"
Thomas, who entered the game averaging just under five points a contest, scored a career-high 16 points. The forward from Shelby Township, Michigan (Lutheran North HS) also and pulled down six rebounds.
Schoonveld, the MIAA's Most Valuable Player and guard from Zeeland, Michigan (Holland Christian), added 15 points.
Junior Lauren Newman of Flushing, Michigan (Flushing) sank 2-of-4 free throws over the final 13 minutes to seal the win.
"Last year was tough. They took three from us during the season, (double) overtime in one of them," Morehouse said. "You feel good when you beat really good teams and people that you respect. Coach (Andy) Rang and Trine are outstanding. There's no easy anything whenever we play each other. It's a back-and-forth street fight. It's always physical, and you know you're going to have to earn it one possession at a time."
The game went back and forth the entire night, with the lead changing hands 14 times and being tied 12 times. Hope led 17-14 after one quarter.
Despite having MIAA Defensive Player of the Year Olivia Voskuil on the bench for nearly the entire second quarter after picking up her second foul, the Flying Dutch took a 31-30 halftime lead as Thomas scored 11 first-half points.
"My whole team was needing some energy," Thomas said, "and with Vos out – she's my partner in crime – I felt it I owed it to her to get out there and make some big plays, do the stuff she would have done if she were out there."
Hope took its biggest lead at 42-35 midway through the third quarter on a jumper by Schoonveld. But the Thunder stormed back with nine straight points to regain the lead. Two late free throws by Voskuil gave the Flying Dutch a 46-45 leading heading into the fourth quarter.
Trine took its last lead at 52-51 on a 3-pointer by Bieniewicz with 7:32 remaining. Schoonveld sank two free throws with a little more than six minutes remaining to put Hope ahead to stay.
"We genuinely love each other so much. We have so much fun," Schoonveld said. "We talked before the game that it's 1 through 18, no matter if you're hurt, no matter if you're a student assistant, no matter if you're getting minutes or not getting minutes. It takes everybody to win a game like that."
Hope shot 39.2 percent from the field (20 of 51) and made just 4 of 14 from 3-point range.
The Thunder shot 44 percent from the field (16 of 36) and hit six 3-pointers, but Hope's defense caused 30 turnovers – the second straight game in which they forced their opponent into 30 turnovers.
Bieniewicz and Katy Steers led Trine with 14 points apiece.