Baker is a No. 2 seed, but early Wednesday it was the University of the Cumberlands that was playing like the higher seed.
Baker came around in the second half, and the Wildcats pulled away for a 74-61 victory over Cumberlands in the first round of the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship at the Frankfort Convention Center.
Baker (27-6) used two runs in the second half to gain some breathing room against Cumberlands (19-11).
“I just told them they need to relax,” Baker coach Ben Lister said. “Cumberlands has been here before. I think it’s their third straight time, and we’ve never been here at all.
“I told them we needed to get a stop defensively. I thought we were passive at that end.”
It was Cumberlands that got off to a fast start Wednesday, going ahead by eight, 13-5, with 15:17 left in the first half.
The Patriots’ last lead was 31-30 with 1:55 left in the half after a jumper by Jill Herman.
By halftime Baker, out of the Heart of America Athletic Conference, led 35-33.
The game was tied twice early in the second half, but the Wildcats scored five straight points on a 3-pointer and two free throws by BriAnna Garza and never trailed again.
Cumberlands, out of the Mid-South Conference, was able to trim the lead to one point twice, the last time at 55-54 with 8:51 remaining.
Baker’s Kyrstie Ehm and Jami Hodge scored to put the Wildcats up 59-54, and BU outscored Cumberlands 15-7 over the final 6:17.
“We thought the 8:30 (a.m.) start would favor us because of the time difference,” Cumberlands coach Melissa Irvin said. “We wanted to get out to a good fast start, and we did a great job early on.
“Baker kind of woke up after that, and in the second half our shots didn’t fall. We had good looks, but they didn’t fall.”
Lister changed his team’s schedule in the last week to get ready for Wednesday’s 8:30 a.m. start. Baker is located in Baldwin City, Kansas.
“We started practice at 8 in the morning,” Lister said. “We changed our routine and got up at 6 in the morning. We didn’t want to just get to practice at 8. Having a week to prepare really helped.”
Garza led all players with 24 points, and she was one of three Wildcats in double figures. The others were Ehm with 17 points and Shea Shoemaker with 12. Macy Wallisch had a game-high 14 rebounds for the Wildcats, who won the battle of the boards 49-31.
Herman was Cumberlands’ top scorer with 15 points, followed by Brooke Forsythe with 14 and Lynnae Lampkins with 10.
Baker plays Bethel in the second round Friday at 9 a.m.
The Master’s 67
Bethel University pulled off the first upset of the tournament, beating second-seeded The Master’s College in Wednesday’s second game.
The Lady Mustangs (24-9) led 41-37 at halftime, but No. 7 Bethel took its first lead of the second half at 50-48 with 13:50 remaining, and the Lady Wildcats hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 1:30 to seal the win.
Bethel, out of the Southern States Athletic Conference, is located in McKenzie, Tenn.
Bethel (22-10) had two players with double-doubles — Tayla Foster with a game-high 32 points and 10 rebounds, and Porsha Harris with 14 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
Kenyatta Drake had 11 rebounds for the Lady Wildcats, who outrebounded The Master’s College 53-41.
The Lady Mustangs shot 54 percent in the first half but just 25 percent in the second. They were led in scoring by Jacquelyn Marshall with 20 points, and Megan Lindsley had 12 points.
The Master’s College (24-9) is located in Santa Clarita, Calif.
Lewis-Clark St. 85,
Wayland Baptist 79
Fourth-seeded Lewis-Clark State led by 18 points, 73-55, with 6:59 left in Wednesday’s third game, then withstood a furious rally by Wayland Baptist to claim the victory.
Both teams struggled from the field with Lewis-Clark State hitting 39 percent and fifth-seeded Wayland Baptist University 33.7 percent.
Lewis-Clark State (27-5) of the Frontier Conference won despite being outrebounded 57-41.
Wayland Baptist’s Christie Mooney and Stephanie Afunugo both had double-doubles — Mooney had 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Afunugo had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The Flying Queens (20-12), out of Plainview Texas, had one other player in double figures as Ashley DeLaCruz chipped in 14 points.
Caelyn Orlandi had a game-high 25 points for the Warriors.
Lewis-Clark State, located in Lewiston, Idaho, will play Freed-Hardeman in Friday’s second round at 10:45 a.m.
Top-seeded Freed Hardeman cruised in Wednesday’s fourth game over No. 8 Huston-Tillotson.
The Lady Lions (33-1) were ahead 46-23 at halftime and finished the game leading in nearly every statistical category.
Freed-Hardeman of the American Midwest Conference shot 42 percent from the field, including 39 percent from 3-point range.
The Lady Lions outrebounded Huston-Tillotson 65-36.
Freed-Hardeman’s Hayley Newby led all players with 24 points and 19 rebounds, and teammate Grace Alonso de Armino also recorded a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds. FHU is in Henderson, Tenn.
Teammate Kenley Crowell had 14 points for the Lady Lions.
Huston-Tillotson (15-15), located in Austin, Texas, had one player in double figures — Trazhazia Webb with 14 points. Shaniqua Thomas had 12 rebounds for the Rams, who shot 28 percent.