Leading by two with just 2:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, Maud Ranger stepped to the free-throw line after being fouled on a 3-point shot.
The senior knew that three makes would go a long way in giving the Westmont women’s team basketball a win in the Golden State Athletic Conference Championship over The Master’s.
“I was just thinking, I shoot these every day and there’s no way I could miss these. I didn’t even look at the score, I just knew. Confidence comes through preparation and we are always prepared,” Ranger said.
Ranger showcased her clutch gene, sinking all three free throws.
Then, after a defensive stop, Ranger pulled the trigger on a 3-point shot and nailed it, capping off a late 14-0 run for the Warriors, and propelling her team to its fifth straight GSAC tournament title with a 76-67 win over the Mustangs Saturday night at Murchison Gymnasium.
“It’s picture-perfect,” Ranger, with the cut-down championship net donned over her neck, told the News-Press after the game.
“You can look at how tall we are and how many people we have and think ‘Wow, this Westmont team is really winning right now’ but to me, after all this hard work that we put in, how could we not be winning?
“Winning tonight, although it’s such an amazing and shocking thing, it’s what was supposed to happen, it was meant to be. We deserve this, we deserve this so much.”
Just one day after scoring 17 points in the first half to lead Westmont to a win over William Jessup in the GSAC semifinals, Stephanie Berberabe again came up big for the Warriors.
The sophomore guard poured in a team-high 26 points on Saturday, one short of her career-high, on 10-for-18 shooting from the floor.
Berberabe usually used her quick ball-handling skills to find a lane to the basket, but on Saturday, she used it to create space and knock down multiple pull-up jumpers for her team.
“That (pull-up jumper) has been my go-to against The Master’s so I was working on that all week and my 3-point shot just in case and I was able to create space and make plays,” Berberabe said.
Trailing 61-55 with 6:58 remaining, the Warriors used a 14-0 run over the next 5:02 to flip the script on the Mustangs and take a commanding 69-61 lead.
Ranger scored nine of those points, as the senior finished with 20 in her final game at Murchison. This was only her third time reaching the 20-point mark this season.
“One thing we can really trust our preparation for is the long haul. All year in the fourth quarter, we just stay with it. We don’t let ourselves ever think that we’re tired and so deep in games, fatigue really doesn’t affect us. It’s when we step up and become our best,” Westmont coach Kirsten Moore said.
The Master’s Stephanie Soares, who had an incredible performance Saturday, finally broke the run-up with a layup. On the ensuing possession, however, Soares was called for a moving screen, giving the ball back to Westmont with 40 seconds remaining and a 69-63 lead.
From there, Westmont would sink 7-of-8 free throws to keep The Master’s at arm’s length, and win its fifth straight title.
“I’m so proud of these ladies for believing in themselves all year. Early on, there were so much unknown with all the adversity that we faced and with our numbers, but this group just continued to keep a fighting spirit, keep up a believing spirit about what they could accomplish this year and I’m just so proud of them,” Moore said of her team.
The last time Westmont defeated The Master’s this season, it held Stephanie Soares to nine points and 15 rebounds. On Saturday, the sophomore post was unstoppable as she totaled a game-high 35 points and collected 22 rebounds in a losing effort. She shot 16-for-19 from the floor and made four of her five attempts from deep.
“Obviously she’s gonna make a couple of buckets, she’s pretty much unstoppable inside, there’s no doubt about it,” Westmont’s Kailin Larson said.
“She’s really good but we were just trying to limit that and limit her touches.”
Larson was the main defender on Soares, and while she did score 35, Larson forced her into a bevy of errors, including four turnovers, as Larson finished the game with six points, seven rebounds, and a game-high four steals.
“I definitely look forward to playing her any time. It’s really fun. I mean, that’s what competition is. It’s definitely tough but it’s a lot of fun,” Larson said.
Westmont trailed 9-0 at the start and didn’t even register its first basket until the 4:34 mark of the first quarter after Lauren Tsuneishi swished a 3-pointer.
The Warriors would then tie the contest at 11-all after a made three from Ranger, but the Mustangs responded with a 14-4 run to take their biggest lead of the contest.
“We have been down a lot and so for us, it’s just about chipping away one basket at a time. There was no worry we were going to lose, we just knew we needed to pick up the urgency,” Ranger said.
Westmont slowly but surely clawed its way back into the contest, ending the first half on a 17-7 run to go into the break nodded up at 32-all.
The Warriors then started the third quarter hot, taking a lead as big as seven. The Master’s responded as guard Sabrina Thompson scored nine of her 12 points in the third period, giving the Mustangs a 53-49 lead after three.
The Master’s continued on the attack, and stayed in front, up until Westmont used that dagger of a run to pull away over the final seven minutes.
“It means a lot (to win five straight titles, four of which Ranger was apart of),” Ranger said with a wide smile.
“It’s never been done before and I am just so lucky amazing teammates and coaches. This is just a great program, every year we trust our coaches and are willing to work hard and if we keep doing that, no matter what the score is in the end it’s a victory for us.
“But, it’s nice when the score reflects that too and you get four in a row.”
After the game, Ranger was the one lifting up the trophy in celebration and after the net was cut down, Moore put it right around her neck.
“I was just feeling a lot of love for my team. This team has been something different for me this year such a different support system. I have some best friends on this team and I just love them,” Ranger said.
“They’re just such fighters, and they fought for me, we fought for one another and so I just love them so much that it brought me to tears.”
With the win, Westmont will now shift its focus to the National Tournament. Seeding for the tournament will be announced Wednesday.
In the men’s GSAC tournament final, Arizona Christian defeated Hope International 83-82 on a game-winning layup with four seconds left from Xander Bowers.