The Lake Forest College women's basketball team defeated host Ripon College 78-75 Friday night in the semifinals of the Midwest Conference Tournament.
The Foresters and Red Hawks were tied nine times in an exciting second half that began with the home team ahead 38-37 after a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Lake Forest guard Zaria Sydnor at the end of the second quarter. A 10-1 run by the visitors early in the third gave them a 49-43 lead but Ripon came back and tied the score at 52, 54, and 56. A long pass from Lake Forest junior forward Hannah Hiland found senior forward Kara Norvet under the basket for an easy layup to put the Foresters on top 58-56 just before the third quarter buzzer sounded.
The Red Hawks tied the contest again at 58 and 60 before pulling ahead by three. The roles were then reversed as the Foresters came back and tied the score at 65 on a three-point play by sophomore forward Molly Schoenlein and at 67 on a jumper by freshman guard Jaianna Brooks. A step-back jumper from the top of the key by Hiland gave Lake Forest a 69-67 advantage with 3:13 to play but the home team quickly tied the score again on the next possession. Senior guard Kelsey Schmitt then knocked down a jumper with 2:16 left and the Foresters led the rest of the way. A pair of free throws by Hiland made it a three-point game with a minute-and-a-half remaining, as did a jumper by Schoenlein with 21 seconds to play. Schoenlein was fouled and made both free throws with nine seconds left and, after a three-pointer from the Red Hawks trimmed the margin to two with just two seconds left, Schmitt made one of two foul shots and Lake Forest escaped with the victory.
The Foresters' clutch play down the stretch was even more impressive considering they did it without their top two scorers on the season. Junior forward Hannah O'Day missed the entire game due to injury and freshman guard Kelsey Burton, who kept the visitors in the game with 24 points through three quarters, fouled out with 7:32 remaining and her team down by a point. In addition to shooting 8-for-10 from the field and 8-for-11 from the free throw line, Burton dished out three assists and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds for her league-best 10th double-double of the year.
Schmitt and Schoenlein reached double figures with 17 and 15 points, respectively, and they combined to score 14 of the team's 20 points in the final period. Schmitt and Brooks shared team-high honors with four assists apiece.
The Foresters were efficient offensively, posting their second-highest field goal percentage of the season at 49.1 percent. The Red Hawks, however, shot 52.6 percent from the field and out-rebounded their guests 35-30. Lake Forest's most significant statistical advantage came at the free throw line, where they made 23 of 30 attempts (76.7%) while Ripon was just 12-for-25 (48%).
The dramatic victory evened the Foresters' record on the year at 13-13. Ripon, which went 14-2 in league play to share the conference title with Cornell College, finished the season 17-8.
Lake Forest, which had a regular season win against both Ripon and Cornell, will face the latter in Saturday afternoon's tourney final at 3:00. The Rams advanced after edging out Knox College 43-42 in the first semifinal of the evening. The Foresters will be making their first appearance in the final of the MWC Tournament in 10 years.