Trent Jackson, Sports Information Director
DUBUQUE – The No. 8-ranked Wartburg women’s basketball team earned a thrilling 79-76 American Rivers Conference road victory at No. 10 Loras College Wednesday evening.
With the win, the Knights improve to 13-2 during conference play to claim sole possession of first place in the league standings as the Duhawks drop to 12-3. Additionally, the Orange & Black clinched at least a share of the conference regular season crown heading into the final contest of the regular season this Saturday.
Tied 66-66 late in regulation, Loras’ Mackenzie Kraemer nailed a jumper to grant the home team a two-point lead with seconds remaining. On the ensuing possession, however, Payton Draper came a clutch to draw a foul and hit both free throws to send the game into overtime.
Riding the momentum after the final play of regulation, the Knights opened the extra period with a floater from Emma Gerdes and didn’t look back. After Loras responded with a pair of free throws, Draper answered with a pair of her own and Wartburg maintained a lead throughout the final minutes of the game.
Wartburg held a 32-21 rebound advantage over Loras, scoring 42 points in the paint and 20 second chance points. Four of five Knights starters scored in double figures, led by a 15-point effort from Draper.
The Knights were solid at the charity stripe, going 16-for-18 with its second best percentage of the season. Draper and Ally Conrad were 4-4, while Tori Hazard was 5-6. Amanda Brainerd led the team with eight rebounds.
A tale of momentum swings throughout each quarter, a strong start for the Orange & Black was dampened by a rough second quarter in which the Duhawks outscored Wartburg 16-9 to grab a 34-33 lead heading into the break.
Wartburg twice gained five-point leads after Hazard free throws near the end of the third quarter to head into the final frame leading 51-46, followed up by a Brainerd three-pointer to give the Knights their largest lead of the game at 54-46 to open the fourth quarter.
The visitors held on to their lead until the Duhawks began to claw back into the contest with under two minutes remaining. With 1:10 left on the game clock, a Loras triple gave the home a 65-63 lead, but Gerdes answered with a three of her own to regain the Knights a one-point advantage with 57 seconds to go.
Wartburg, now 21-3, wraps up its regular season this Saturday, Feb. 22 at the University of Dubuque, seeking a fourth straight regular season conference championship.