MC Pioneer ladies nip Otterbein 71-69

Marietta College women’s basketball coach Stacia Shrider knows how tough the Ohio Athletic Conference is.

If there was any doubt from her players on how tough it is, those doubts were erased Wednesday night as the Lady Pioneers held on for a thrilling 71-69 victory over Otterbein at Ban Johnson Arena.

“I think it was an eye-opener for some our kids about what OAC play is like and how tough and competitive it is,” Shrider said.

“For us to come away with a win here in the first one is big.”

The Lady Pioneers found themselves down 19-6 early in the first half and were trailing 38-33 at halftime, after shooting an ice cold 28 percent (11-for-39) from the field. They overcame that by hitting 12-of-28 (43 percent) shots in the second half to outscore the Cardinals 38-31.

“We were taking better shots,” Shrider said of the second half. “Our shots just weren’t falling in the first half. We thought we were taking good ones but we just went ice cold from the floor.

“We knew that if we weren’t shooting well in the first half we knew we were gonna start hitting.”

That they did.

Down 42-37 at the 15 minute mark, Morgan Liedtke connected on a jumper to make it a 3-point game. Later, in the span of four seconds, Tori Dixon gave Marietta its first lead of the game, a lead that would last until the final buzzer.

First Dixon splashed a 3-pointer to tie the game up off an assist from Lindsey Eckstein, but a foul on Otterbein’s Chelsea Reed away from the ball gave possession right back to MC. Dixon made it count, again hitting a trey, this time with an assist from Liedtke, to put Marietta up 45-42 with 14:22 remaining.

“That’s a big turnaround,” Shrider said of the shots by Dixon, who matched a career-high with 26 points. “She’s a senior. That’s what we expect from her. We expect her to come in and make big plays for us. She definitely did that tonight.”

Later, with just over seven minutes to go, the Pioneers took their biggest lead of the night.

Up 55-48, Jordanna Rauch made a layup followed by a mid-range jumper, and one, from Heather Booth to extend the advantage to 60-48.

Otterbein responded by successfully hitting its next three shots, two by Tabatha Piper, to cut it to 60-54.

Marietta quickly brought the lead back to double digits, after four points from Dixon and a pair of free throws by Candice Alexander made it 66-56.

Then, after Piper converted a 3-point play, Amariah Huck drained a jumper to bring the Cardinals within five.

After Dixon answered with a jumper of her own, Reed made up some ground for Otterbein with a 3-point play to make the score 68-64.

Liedtke then split a pair of free throws to put MC up five, but Reed came right down the court and put in a triple to bring her team within two with 1:12 left in the contest.

Dixon, after getting fouled while bringing the ball up the court, hit two freebies for Marietta’s final points. Piper matched Dixon by sinking a pair of foul shots to again cut the lead to two with 39 seconds remaining.

Marietta drained as much of the clock as it could on its next possession, with Booth’s 2-point attempt circling out of the rim. Reed grabbed the rebound for Otterbein with seven seconds left and sprinted up the court.

Reed penetrated and kicked out Madi Miller on the wing for 3, but the shot was just off the mark to give Marietta a win in its OAC opener.

“Obviously we’re happy with the win,” Shrider said. “Any time we can beat an OAC opponent it’s great for us, especially our first one.”

A big key for Marietta’s second half surge was taking advantage of the charity stripe. The Pios were 11-for-13 from the foul line in the second half and 19-for-23 overall, whereas Otterbein got to the line just 13 times the entire game, making eight shots. “We did a good job of getting ourselves to the free throw line,” Shrider said. “That was the difference, we think, down the stretch.”

Dixon’s 26 points came on 7-for-9 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from beyond the arch. Booth and Alexander each scored in double figures as well with 13 and 11 points, respectively.

Otterbein was led by Piper’s 21 markers.

On the glass, Marietta held a 45-37 advantage. Mackenzie Kiser led the Pioneers nine boards while Paige Lamb grabbed eight. Huck topped Otterbein with nine rebounds.

Both teams are back in action Saturday, with Otterbein hosting Muskingum at 7 p.m. while Marietta travels to Wilmington at 3 p.m.