ast Wednesday’s Commonwealth Conference game between Stevenson University and host Elizabethtown College matched two teams vying for the top spot in the standings.
The Stevenson University Mustangs came in just one game over .500 overall, but 6-2 in the conference. The Blue Jays held a 6-2 conference record and a 13-2 overall record. Stevenson had come off of a week in which they posted huge victories over No. 17 Lebanon Valley College and Messiah College and looked to continue their recent success with a win over the Blue Jays. Behind sophomore guard Rachel Forjan and a strong team defensive effort, Etown had other plans.
Forjan put the Blue Jays ahead early by scoring ten of Etown’s first 12 points to hold an eight point advantage just over five minutes into the contest. The Mustangs answered Forjan’s run with a big run of their own, scoring 16 of the game’s next 23 points to lead 20-19. Stevenson’s one-point lead would turn out to be their only lead of the entire game, as senior guard Kendra Beittel’s layup 20 seconds later gave Etown the lead for good. The Blue Jays would own a nine-point advantage at halftime and go on to outscore the visitors by 12 in the second half to win 69-48.
First-year forward Emily Martin had a career night on the boards, grabbing 17 rebounds to help Etown own a 43-35 advantage in that category.
“It’s both an honor and an accomplishment to be playing on this team,” Martin said. “It feels like there’s a lot of pressure at times to perform well, but everyone on the team supports each other. Having the opportunity to go into a game and make an impact means a lot to me.”
Forjan finished the game with 25 points, tying a season-high with ten made field goals. Senior forward/guard Taylor Kreider finished the game with 16 points and eight rebounds, making six of her eight free throws. Beittel knocked down three triples en route to 14 points, and junior forward Taylor Alwine dished out a team-best five assists to complement her eight points.
On a night when the Blue Jay offense was clicking, shooting over 45 percent from the field, the story of the game was their defense. Stevenson shot under 30 percent for the game, and leading scorers Kayla Kelly (12.5 ppg) and Kyarra Harmon (9.6 ppg) scored a combined six points.
“To say that Coach Gorman believes defense is important would be an understatement. She has made it first priority to us as a team,” Forjan said. “A practice doesn’t go by without us doing at least two or three defensive drills.”
The Blue Jays continued their winning ways on Saturday afternoon when they welcomed the Lycoming Warriors to Thompson Gymnasium. The Jan. 25 contest was an Alzheimer’s Awareness game with the proceeds from the event going to the Masonic Village Alzheimer’s unit. Etown wore purple jerseys in recognition of the color commonly associated with World Alzheimer’s Month.
Both teams started off slow offensively, combining for 25 first-half turnovers. The Blue Jays shot 33 percent from the field in the first half, connecting on seven of their 21 shot attempts. The Warriors (7-9, 4-6) kept it close by forcing 14 Blue Jays’ turnovers and connecting on two three-point shots to take a 21-19 deficit into the half.
Kreider did most of her damage in the first half, scoring 13 of her game-high 17 points in the first 20 minutes. Kreider also pulled down 12 rebounds to go along with her 17 points, giving the senior eight double-doubles this season.
“We are able to be so defensively successful because we have faith that our teammates will help us if we get beat,” Forjan said. “We also are very talkative on the court, which helps our defense too.”
The bench played a huge role for Etown in the second half, shooting seven of 11 from the field in the last 20 minutes of play to extend the Blue Jays’ lead. The Blue Jays connected on all six free throw attempts in the final minute to keep a comfortable distance from Lycoming. Etown outscored the Warriors by eight in the second half to hang on for a 56-46 win over the visitors.
Beittel struggled to find her stroke from beyond the arc, hitting on just one of her six shots. She made up for it at the free throw line, connecting on seven of nine attempts. Martin followed up her strong performance on the glass against Stevenson by posting 12 more rebounds against Lycoming. Martin now has three double-digit rebound games this season.
“A major focus on our team is rebounding, and we always make it a goal every game to out-rebound our opponents,” Martin said. “Lately, I’ve decided to personally focus on my rebounding game and work harder to box out and grab more boards, because rebounds can make a huge difference in a game.”
Coming off a hot-shooting game Wednesday evening, Forjan’s scoring took a backseat to her passing game. The sophomore finished with a game-high four assists for the Blue Jays.
“I treat every game the same. Our conference this year has had so many upsets and no game is an automatic win,” Forjan said. “I just go into a game ready to win and will do my part to get the team to victory.”
The second-year player has evolved into a complete all-around player for the Blue Jays this season.
“Some games it’s scoring, some it’s passing, some it’s cheering. Every game is different, and I have learned to take whatever the other team is giving me,” Forjan said.
With two wins this past week, the Blue Jays have kept themselves tied with Lebanon Valley for first place in the Commonwealth Conference standings.
Etown lost to Messiah College last night 59-58 in a battle for second place to move its record to 14-3 for the season. The Blue Jays will now travel to Lebanon Valley College to face the Dutchmen Saturday afternoon.