Defending champion Wheaton upsets top seed WPI in semifinals, 62-58

WORCESTER, MA- Junior point guard Andrea Bailey (Needham, MA/Needham) turned in a career-high-tying 18 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds to spark the fourth-seeded Wheaton College women's basketball team's 62-58 upset of number-one Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) during a New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Tournament semifinal Saturday in Harrington Auditorium.

The 2008 NEWMAC Tournament champion Lyons, now 17-10, advance to Sunday's championship game at 12:00 p.m. against either second-seeded Babson College or number-three Springfield College in a contest that will be played at WPI. The 21-6 Engineers await word on a postseason tournament berth, while the Lyons look to corral their sixth league title. Wheaton won the New England Women's Eight Conference (NEW 8) Tournament as the fourth seed in 1990. Since the conference expanded to 10 teams and became the NEWMAC in 1998-99, only two number four seeds have won the tournament: Clark University in 2000 and Springfield in 2003.

Junior Jenny Champney (Bedford, MA/Bedford) tallied 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Lyons, and senior Bri Smith (Westford, MA/Westford Academy) added 12 points, as she is now within seven points of 1,000 for her career. Classmate Krystin Hickey (Manchester, NH/New Hampton School) turned in 11 points, and senior Jennie Pleat (Nashua, NH/Nashua South) appeared in her program-record-tying 112th career contest.

In a game that featured 14 lead changes, including 10 in the second half, Wheaton went up for good with 1:11 remaining in regulation on Hickey's hoop off a Bailey pass. After the teams exchanged possession a few times, Smith canned two free throws at the 30-second mark to make it 58-55. The Engineers missed a pair of freebies with 12.8 ticks to go, and Bailey hit four free throws in the final 11 seconds around a long WPI three for the final margin.

Wheaton extended its lead to five on two occasions early in the second half, but WPI later used a 12-2 run to grab a 38-33 edge. After Hickey converted a Bailey inbounds pass to draw the Lyons within three, Bailey converted a three-point play on the fast break to knot the game and erased an ensuing two-point Engineer lead by canning two threes 38 seconds apart to make it 44-40. After WPI came back to tie, junior Ida Kruse (Vershire, VT/Rivendell Academy) took a Bailey pass and made it 47-45, but the hosts notched five straight points to go up 50-47 with 4:39 left, the first of six lead changes in a 3:46 span. Hickey's last bucket provided the final swap.

The Lyons took a 27-24 lead by halftime after holding WPI to 18.8 percent shooting in the opening stanza while blocking seven shots. Champney had eight points and nine rebounds by the intermission, while WPI junior Serena Dubois (Bangor, ME/Bangor) had 11 points. The hosts held an 11-4 advantage on the offensive glass.

Wheaton fell behind 14-7 before going on a 17-4 run during an 8:29 stretch. At one point, WPI missed 18 straight field-goal attempts, and the Blue and White forged a 24-18 advantage. Champney had seven points in the big run, but WPI quickly regrouped with a 6-0 run in a matter of 34 seconds, with Dubois' breakaway hoop knotting the game at 24 with 1:13 left. However, the Lyons hit three free throws in the final 49 seconds to grab a three-point edge. Pleat hit a pair, while Champney knocked down a freebie with 3.5 seconds left.

Dubois finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, sophomore Elle Fontaine (Franklin, MA/Bishop Feehan) added 15 points, and junior Kaileen Selen (Worcester, MA/Saint Peter-Marian) had 11 points.

Saturday's meeting was the 10th in the last three years between the teams, as each won five times during that stretch. Wheaton improved to 7-2 in postseason play against the Engineers, winning for the first time in three road games at WPI. Eighteen of the past 24 meetings overall were decided by eight points or fewer.