The women’s basketball team didn’t get the memo about five seeds not belonging in the MIAC playoff finals.
The Tommies are crashing the championship game after going on the road Wednesday to win 63-60 in a barn-burner over two-seed Gustavus. The Gusties had one final shot, down three points with 4.9 seconds left, but senior Brianna Radtke’s 3-point attempt came up short and sent the Tommies to the championship round.
“When that ball went off the rim and didn’t go in, I probably could have run around for another 40 minutes because I was so happy,” junior Jazmin Townsend said.
Junior Rachel Booth, who finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, led St. Thomas, and Townsend added 14 points, including the eventual game-winning free throws, after violently colliding with Gustavus junior Molly Mathiowetz.
St. Thomas went into halftime down 33-29 but rode strong second-half performances from Townsend and junior Becky Theisen, who finished with eight points, to close the deficit.
The Tommies had a scary moment with 7:09 remaining in the game when Booth fell to the floor, holding her ankle and calling for medical staff. With the team’s leading scorer being tended to by team trainers, coach Ruth Sinn said she was confident her team could pick up the slack.
“I was thinking that’s a great opportunity for our other players to step up,” Sinn said.
Booth returned to the game with just over five minutes remaining and finished the game, contributing two points and a key block in the final minutes.
The teams exchanged leads throughout the second half, but after St. Thomas went ahead 56-54 with 4:10 to go, they did not trail again. St. Thomas got two clutch free throws from sophomore Jordyn Sears with under 10 seconds remaining to extend the lead to 63-60 and force Gustavus to make a 3-pointer to tie.
“I told them, ‘We’re a defensive team, and it’s coming down to defense. We’ve got to be confident here. Everyone needs to know their assignment,'” Sinn said of her timeout before the game’s final play.
Gustavus ran a double-screen for sophomore Molly Geske, who finished with a game-high 23 points, but it was Radtke who caught the inbound and rose up for a contested three.
“They have a lot of 3-point shooters who can make that basket, even with defenders on them,” Townsend said. “[Sinn] said, ‘Talk on all screens, switch on all screens, and get it done.’”
The Tommies did get it done and earned themselves a date in the MIAC championship at St. Benedict’s. After playing in hostile arenas for both playoff wins, Sinn said playing on the road “is not an issue for us.”
“We just need to keep this momentum going and keep building off of it,” she said.
Following a slow start to the season, St. Thomas has won 10 of its last 12 games, playing its best basketball down the stretch. Townsend knows the timing of the Tommies’ streak couldn’t be better.
“What matters is the playoffs,” she said. “Yea, having a MIAC conference title would be cool, but it’s even better to have the MIAC tournament title and get an automatic bid to the NCAAs.”
The Tommies have a chance at both at 3 p.m. Saturday when they tip off at St. Benedict’s. St. Benedict’s defeated St. Catherine’s 69-61 in overtime to advance to the finals.
Jordan Osterman can be reached at email@example.com.