The Williams College women's basketball team begins its NCAA Division III Tournament journey Friday night in upstate New York. To keep it from being a short journey, the Ephs will have to play better than they did Sunday.

"It was very frustrating," Williams forward Claire Baecher said after the Ephs lost to Amherst in the NESCAC championship game in LeFrak Gymnasium on Sunday.

"We didn't come out playing our game," said Baecher, who was named the NESCAC player of the year on Wednesday. "We let them dictate what we were doing. It's very frustrating, because we know how good we are and we didn't play anywhere near that."

The Williams redemption tour begins Friday at 5 p.m. in the Alexander Palestra on the University of Rochester campus.

Claire Baecher
Claire Baecher (Courtesy photo)
Head coach Pat Manning's Ephs (22-5) will face the University of Scranton (19-8) in the first game of a doubleheader. Host Rochester (19-6) will play Emmanuel (23-5) in the 7 p.m. nightcap.

The winners will play Saturday at 5 p.m. for the right to move on toward the Division III Final Four in Holland, Mich., the weekend of March 15.

For Baecher, this year is a second chance at basketball success. She suffered a serious injury to her right knee in early January of her junior season and watched as the Ephs were unable to get out of the NESCAC Tournament a year ago. It wasn't a contact injury.

"Over the past few weeks, I just really regained total confidence in my knee," she said. "I feel like I'm playing like I used to play, which I think is good timing for the end of the season."

The senior from Brunswick, Maine, is the Williams leader in multiple categories. She is tops in scoring (13.5 points per game), total points (365), field goal attempts (11.4 per game), field goals made (4.9), rebounds per game (6.9), total rebounds (185), and blocked shots (65).

And even last Sunday, on a day where Baecher's offense deserted her, she still had a game-high 10 rebounds and blocked five shots.

While the senior can smile at her accomplishments, that smile didn't come easily.

"There was definitely part of me saying ‘I wonder what kind of player I'm going to be after this?'" she said. "It was a long rehab process. Coming off it, I was hesitant about coming back into a contact sport where you're cutting and running. I was definitely wondering how it would hold up."

Baecher said that she was a little anxious when practice rolled around on Nov. 1. She said it took her a couple of games to start feeling comfortable on the court.

"It was more excitement than nerves, finally being able to practice again after how ever many months," she said, "and be with the team on the court was really exciting for me."

Baecher and her teammates are excited to play Scranton, a team that is also got into the tournament via the at-large berth.

Scranton lost to Catholic University in the Landmark Conference championship game on Feb. 20.

Head coach Mike Strong is in his 33rd year at Scranton, and has 789 career wins. He has led his team to 24 NCAA Division III tournament appearances.

Scranton is paced by sophomore Meredith Mesaris, a 6-foot-1 forward, who averages 16.8 points per game. The other key player for Scranton is 6-1 senior Erin Boggan from Danbury, Conn. Boggan averages 11.8 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game. Both Mesaris and Boggan earned second-team All-Landmark Conference honors along with sophomore point guard Lindsay Fluehr.

On Sunday, Amherst beat Williams 53-38 to win the NESCAC title. On most days, 53 points would be good enough to win. That's why Baecher said Manning has been emphasizing defense this year.

"Coach has emphasized that if you can't control that your shots are going in and how your offense is going, you can control how hard you're working on defense," said Baecher. "I think we've really taken that to heart this year."

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
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On Twitter: @howardherman