Saturday became a night to remember for the Valparaiso University women’s basketball team.
The evening’s first slice of program history occurred when Meredith Hamlet (McBain, Mich. / McBain) made a layup with 9:22 remaining in the third quarter, becoming the 15th Valpo player to reach 1,000 career points. When the game’s final horn sounded and Valpo held on for a heart-stopping 78-76 win over St. Francis Brooklyn as part of the Vinewood Farm Classic hosted by Morehead State, it was Mary Evans’ turn for her moment in the sun. The first-year head coach smiled and breathed a sigh of relief after recording her first win as a collegiate head coach.
But amidst a game featuring two unforgettable individual accomplishments, it was very much a team win for a short-handed, injury-riddled group playing its fourth game in seven days.
How It Happened
- The Terriers inched out to an early lead, but Allison Schofield (McCordsville, Ind. / Heritage Christian) got off to a strong start as well including a made 3 with 2:49 left in the first quarter to cut St. Francis Brooklyn’s edge to one at 11-10. Bryce Blood (Toledo, Ohio / Whitmer) swished in her first career 3-pointer to tie the game at 13 with 2:06 left in the first, but Valpo never led in an opening period that saw the Terriers outscore Valpo 19-16.
- The first quarter saw St. Francis Brooklyn shoot 60 percent to Valpo’s 35, but Valpo kept it close with six steals and five offensive rebounds.
- The Terriers went on an 8-0 run midway through the second quarter to expand a four-point edge to 12 at 33-21 after a made 3 by Jade Johnson with 5:25 left until halftime.
- But it was a night of runs, and Valpo had the next one, scoring 13 unanswered to take a 34-33 lead. Freshmen Ilysse Pitts (Aurora, Ill. / Montini) and Shay Frederick (Greenville, Wis. / Hortonville) both knocked in triples during the run, while Frederick was also fouled shooting a 3 and made all three at the stripe.
- St. Francis scored the final point of the second quarter, and the two teams went into halftime with a score reflective of the way the game unfolded – dead even at 34.
- After her milestone basket in the first minute of the third quarter, Hamlet buried a 3 with 7:51 left in the third to complete a 7-0 run that forced St. Francis into a timeout and reversed the script of early-half woes that had plagued Valpo this season.
- Hamlet swished a 3 with 1:57 left in the third to make it 52-42, Valpo’s first double-figure lead of the day. However, St. Francis had climbed back to within three at 52-49 by the time the third quarter came to a close.
- When the fourth quarter began, Hamlet stayed hot and Frederick caught fire. Their 3-point shooting coupled with gritty Valpo defense soon had the lead back to double figures. By the 7:23 mark of the fourth, it was a 12-point game after a steal and score by Frederick.
- But there was no pulling away in a game like this one. The Terriers battled back with an 11-0 run that trimmed the Valpo lead to one with 5:48 to play. It was back-and-forth the rest of the way, with Grace Hales (Cromwell, Ind. / Westview) hitting a crucial triple with 3:53 to go to give Valpo slight breathing room at 70-66. Hales continued a strong stretch with a layup on the next possession to boost the cushion to six.
- Johnson continued her big game with a 3-pointer with 2:47 left that pulled the Terriers back within two. Pitts made a jumper with 58 seconds left that lifted the lead to six at 76-70, then St. Francis scored four quick points, but not quick enough as time expired as the last basket went through. The Valpo bench and fan base unleashed a collective gasp as the team held on for dear life to capture its first victory of the season.
Inside the Game
- Hamlet finished with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting and 3-of-5 from beyond the arc on her milestone night. She finished the contest with 1,013 career points, which ranks 15th in program history. She became the first Valpo player to hit 1,000 points since her former teammate Dani Franklin did so her junior year at Green Bay. Hamlet is two points away from Carie Forsman, who is 14th on the program’s all-time scoring list.
- Two guards shined on Saturday – one adding a new milestone to her growing Valpo legacy, and the other authoring the first chapter of her collegiate journey. The second is Frederick, who finished with a team-high and career-high 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting, 4-of-6 from 3 and 5-of-5 at the line. In addition, Frederick dished out five assists and made just one turnover.
- Frederick led her team in scoring for the first time in her collegiate career. In addition, she became the fourth different Valpo player to finish as the team’s leading scorer in the last four games, illustrating the balance that head coach Mary Evans has preached and praised.
- Blood returned after missing the last two games due to concussion protocol. In addition to making the first 3-pointer of her collegiate career, the sophomore forward boasted 11 points, five rebounds and three assists. This was her first time in double figures since March 1 of last season when she scored 11 against UNI.
- Addison Stoller (Cissna Park, Ill. / Cissna Park) remained a steady contributor, complementing her nine points with a team-best eight rebounds and a team-high three steals. Pitts chipped in seven points, while Hales finished with nine including several key fourth-quarter baskets.
- Johnson led St. Francis (3-1), a previously undefeated team that entered the game averaging 95 points per game (third in the nation), with a game-high 24 points. Maria Palarino added 16 points for the Terriers.
Thoughts from Head Coach Mary Evans
“I’m really proud of those kids. This was our fourth games in seven days. We showed a lot of fight tonight through nicks and bruises and injuries. They fought for each other. That’s the thing I appreciate most; our players care about each other and they fight for each other.”
“Meredith Hamlet is a very talented offensive player. We’re asking her to do a few things different and it’s causing her to be a little hesitant, but she’s understanding how to use her teammates and the better she does that, the easier the game is going to get for her. She showed great mental toughness to come out here and really lead us in that third quarter. I’m glad we got that third quarter curse off our backs after struggling in that quarter in recent games. It was a great team effort tonight.”
“We went to a ton of motion offense tonight and our players did a great job making decisions and sharing the basketball with each other. We played to a great tempo. I was excited to see 11 3s again. I’m also really proud of what we accomplished defensively tonight. To hold a team that was averaging 95 to 76 says a lot about the way our players defended. Offensively, we did a nice job sharing the basketball. I’m happy we ended the road trip on a high note and are able to have a fun bus ride home after a win.”
“It’s been great to bond on the road. Our team is so close and we’ve been together since the summer, so they spend a lot of time together. However, this is nice for us to spend time together as coaches. I want to get to know these players really well and I want them to get to know me and be a part of my family. Road trips like this open that up. Now, we’re excited to get back to practice next week and continue to get better as we go forward.”
After a busy stretch of basketball and a long week on the road, Valpo (1-4) will finally get some much needed practice time and rest over the next week. After eight days without a game, Valpo will return to the court after the Thanksgiving holiday to host Toledo on Monday, Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and 95.1 FM Valparaiso with links to live video, audio and stats available.