No. 15 Washington make clutch free throws to hold of Fairfield
FAIRFIELD — No. 15 Washington couldn’t buy a make from the charity stripe in the first half.
The Demons more than made up for it in the second half Friday, knocking down four foul shots in the game’s final minute to stave off upset-hungry Fairfield and claim a 44-39 victory at Fairfield High School gymnasium.
Washington senior Sammy Ellingson, who hit a pair of three throws to put her team up by four points with 28 seconds to go, said the key to her team’s first Southeast Conference victory was in relaxing.
“I was thinking, ‘You shoot these in practice all the time. Just go out there, clear your mind and do what do you. Just focus on winning the game and making the free throws for your team,’” Ellingson said.
Her clutch shots, which made it a two-possession game, were just two of the 16 foul shots hit by Washington in the second half. The visitors were 16 of 22 on free throws in the final two quarters, but in the first half they were just 4 of 13 from the charity stripe.
There were six lead changes by halftime in the SEC battle, and it was rarely more than a one-possession ball game throughout. Washington led 9-6 after the first quarter, yet Fairfield kept it close, trailing 15-14 at the midway point. The Demons held a 28-27 advantage after three quarters.
With 3:30 remaining in the game, the Trojans (2-3, 0-2 SEC) grabbed their largest lead of the night as senior Sidney Baumann made a layup for a 34-30 lead. Washington senior Johannah Vittetoe cut the deficit to 34-32, and senior Beth Dillon made a pair of free throws to tie the game back up. Senior Lauren Kimball and junior Grace Redlinger hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push Washington’s lead to four, and the Demons held on from the free-throw line. Dillon hit a free throw attempt, Ellingson made two of hers and Vittetoe sealed the game with one final make in the closing seconds.
“Washington was able to make a shot or two when it was gut check time,” said Fairfield head coach Mick Flattery. “They made their free throws when they needed to and hit a few big 3-pointers, but we had our chances.”
Dillon paced the Demons (4-2, 1-0 SEC) with 13 points and 8 of 10 shooting from the charity stripe, Vittetoe had 10 points with six free throws and junior Stephanie Fishback added seven points and four steals. Ellingson contributed five points.
After falling to Washington by a combined 47 points in two games last season, Flattery was pleased with his team’s progress. He said no one in Fairfield’s locker room was satisfied, however.
“It bothered them in the locker room, as it should now. We’re at the stage of this program now where our girls want the next level because they’ve been working so hard,” he said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh boy, we’ve never come this close to Washington before.’ It’s not about moral victories anymore, and that’s what I like about our girls, is their mentality.”
Outside of some clutch free throws, both teams’ head coaches contributed Fairfield’s foul trouble to giving Washington an edge. Fairfield was without its two starting guards — Marisa Repp and Baumann — for large stretches due to each being in foul trouble.
“I thought the key was we had Baumann and Repp in foul trouble most of the evening, and they were our two focus kids because they’re two special little players,” Washington head coach Phil Long said.
Baumann and Repp led the Trojan offense with nine and seven points, respectively. Both also had three steals playing a pivotal role in Fairfield’s full court press. Junior Hanna Greiner scored six points and hauled in 11 rebounds. Junior McKenna Ledger scored six points, and junior Sydney Burnett had five points with three steals. Senior Miranda Metcalf was credited with 10 rebounds.
The win was a big boost for the Demons’ confidence.
“It feels great to get the win,” said Ellingson. “We’ve had a pretty difficult week of practice, we’ve had obstacles we’ve had to overcome in practice, but coming out here and getting that close win on the road really feels good and gets us confidence for the future conference games.”