Eagle women cap off season with playoff run

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Kylie Huerta drives against Montana State in the Big Sky Tournament on March 13.

Kylie Huerta drives against Montana State in the Big Sky Tournament on March 13.
Kylie Huerta drives against Montana State in the Big Sky Tournament on March 13.

By Peter Sowards

SENIOR REPORTER

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A successful season for the Eagles culminated with two hard-fought battles against stubborn opponents in postseason play that required extra time to determine the victors.

The EWU women’s basketball team finished its 2012-13 campaign with a pair of stinging overtime losses, first to Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Conference tournament and next to Washington in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

The Eagles placed third in the Big Sky Conference with a 14-6 record, setting a record for the most conference victories in a season and achieving its best conference winning percentage since the 2009-10 season.

Eastern was selected to the WNIT after falling short against No. 2 seed UNC on March 15 in the Big Sky semifinals, losing 70-64. The Eagles battled back to force overtime after trailing by 11 points with six minutes to play, led by a strong second-half performance from senior Carrie Ojeda in the final Big Sky game of her Eagles career. Ojeda scored 18 of her 20 points in the final 25 minutes — including the game-tying layup at the end of regulation — and grabbed 14 rebounds for her eighth and final double-double of the season.

“Carrie [Ojeda] was a warrior for us,” EWU head coach Wendy Schuller said. “She struggled offensively in the first half, but I think she figured things out and came out aggressive in the second half, which made a big difference for us. There was some really physical play going on in the paint with her, but she withstood it. To get 14 rebounds against a team like that in that environment — she was in beast-mode. I am very proud of her effort.”

A week later, the Eagles tipped off against the Washington Huskies, a team against whom the Eagles have not achieved much success. Coming into the game on March 22, EWU held a 1-21 record against its in-state rival, with the sole victory coming in Seattle two months before Mount St. Helens blew its top in May 1980.

The Eagles, looking for their first national postseason tournament in school history and first 20-win season since 1984-85, took the Huskies to double overtime but ultimately fell short, losing 65-60. Schuller reflected on the season not with disappointment, but pride. “The number one thing we expressed to the team when we went into the locker room tonight was just how proud we were of them. This is a team that has battled and fought all year, and I didn’t expect anything less from us tonight,” Schuller said.

Redshirt freshman Hayley Hodgins led the Eagles with 20 points, including 17 in the second half and overtime periods. Hodgins, whose mother, Karen [Murray] Hodgins, was the first female basketball player inducted into University of Washington hall of fame, matched the Huskies shot-for-shot in the second overtime period, hitting three field goals in the final frame before a potential game-tying attempt missed long, ending the Eagles postseason hopes. Junior guard and defensive stalwart Aubrey Ashenfelter set a career-high with 13 rebounds and added three assists, three blocks and two steals.

“This is one I know will stick with us for a long time,” Schuller said. “Those are hard to walk away from. For us, we weren’t about any kind of moral victory — we wanted to win a basketball game. But we are extremely proud of this team and the effort tonight.”

Earlier, in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament on March 13, the Eagles defeated Montana State 68-53 thanks to a 15-0 second half run and double-digit scoring from five of their players. Junior Laura Hughes was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field, scoring 13 points in just 13 minutes on the floor. Sophomore point guard Kylie Huerta finished with nine assists and six steals, both game highs.

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