After dropping its last two road tests, the Gustavus women’s basketball team finished the regular season on a positive note heading into the MIAC Playoffs with a 70-53 victory over Bethel on Saturday afternoon in St. Peter, Minn. The Gusties finish the regular season with a 19-6 overall record and 17-5 mark in the MIAC, while the Royals end at 14-11 overall and 12-10 in the conference.
The four Gustie seniors were honored in their last regular season home game at Gus Young Court, but the Gustie juniors stole the show. Junior Abby Rothenbuehler tallied her fifth double-double of the season with game-highs in points (14) and rebounds (10). Fellow juniors Kelsey Florian and Eli Benz also reached double figures with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
“It’s nice to have the depth we do and that showed with our juniors stepping up today,” head coach Mickey Haller said. “All four of our seniors have been important factors to where we are today, but it’s nice to know that they will do anything to get the win even if that means the production comes from other players.”
Gustavus got off to a slow start, falling behind 8-2 in the first two minutes, but found its stride midway through the first half. The Gusties knotted the score at 13 at the 12:13 mark and took the lead 15-14 with 9:24 remaining in the half. The Black and Gold then finished the half on a 22-to-7 run and led 37-21 at the break.
To start the second half, Gustavus increased its lead to 16 points, but a layup by Taylor Sheley at the 16:21 mark sparked a Royals scoring spree with 10 unanswered points. Molly Geske ended the streak with a jumper eight minutes into the half and the Gusties returned the favor with an 11-to-2 run and led 53-38 with 7:44 on the clock. Bethel cut the deficit to 12 (55-43) at the 6:12 point only to let the Gusties dart away with another scoring run, 15-to-6 over the next four-and-a-half minutes.
The Gusties had a strong shooting performance throughout the game, shooting 51.9-percent (27-52) from the floor. They limited Bethel to 39.2-percent (20-51) and its best player, Taylor Sheley, to a cold 5-for-18 showing from the field for 12 points.
With at least one more game on Gus Young Court, the four Gustie seniors have compiled a 39-10 career record on their home court and they’ll be aiming for win No. 40 next Thursday night in a MIAC Semifinal game. Coach Haller recognizes the value each one of them has to the success of the team.
“We have Molly Geske who has been all over the stat sheet,” Haller acknowledged. “Last year, Molly led the nation in free throw shooting. We then have Colleen Ruane who has turned out to be the best point guard in the conference as far as I’m concerned. And we have Ava Perry who is the most competitive kid on the team. Ava brings a strong desire to win, and what Liz Shay brings to this team might be more valuable than anything else. She brings that heart and soul of a Gustie and she’s out there working hard every day. I feel with these four seniors we get something different from each one of them.”
Gustavus has secured the No. 2 seed and a first round bye in the MIAC Playoffs and will face the highest remaining seed out of the opening round. No. 6 Bethel will travel to No. 3 Concordia and No. 4 St. Olaf will host No. 5 Saint Mary’s on Tuesday night.