With a minute and a half left in the game, Colby guard MK Caverly ’17 had the ball at the wing. The shot clock ticked down and she drove left on her defender, Middlebury’s Betsy Knox ’20. Right as she got to the elbow, Caverly crossed right and drove to the basket. As Knox extended her arms to block Caverly’s shot, Caverly tucked the ball before Knox’s arms crashed down on her. The ball went into the bucket and the referee’s whistle blew for an and-one play. After Caverly hit the free throw, Colby was up 42-34. All Middlebury could do was foul Colby with hopes of prolonging the game and their season. In the end, Colby held onto their lead for a 48-39 victory.
This season marked the third straight time that Colby started their playoff journey on the road. Two years ago they lost to Amherst 62-40, while last year they defeated Conn College 75-66 before falling to Tufts 62-42 in the semifinals. Despite the tough losses in past years, Caverly believes the team learned from them and helped with their mindset. “You’re not just playing for a win or a loss, you are also playing for survival. You need to go in with the mindset that you will go to any length to win that game,” she said.
If the team needed any more motivation going into the game, they were out to avenge an overtime loss in the regular season to the Panthers. After fighting back from a late nine-point deficit to force OT, the Mules were outscored 17-2 in the overtime period to lose 64-49. “When we found out we were playing [Middlebury] again, the whole team was fired up. Knowing we had another shot at them was a great feeling,” center Emily Davis ’19 said. With their eyes set on advancing to the next round and the added bonus of getting revenge, this was sure to be a good game.
Early on, Colby was looking to feed Davis in the post. After winning NESCAC Player of the Week honors, it was understandable to want to feed Davis. Middlebury, however, saw this coming and focused their defense on taking away inside passing lanes in the first quarter. This led to a couple turnovers from the Mules, but they were quick to adjust their strategy and space out the floor, so their outside players could slash, leading to open layups and jumpers. At the end of the first quarter, the score was tied 12-12.
In the second quarter, the lead continued to go back and forth. With about five minutes left, Katie McCrum ’19 hit a three-pointer to give Colby a lead of 21-18. With the score unchanged for five minutes, McCrum got a steal. It looked like the scoring drought for both sides was finally going to change, but a turnover with two seconds left squandered that possibility and the Mules went into the half with a 21-18 lead.
The game remained tight until about halfway through the fourth quarter. Colby’s defense tightened up and held the Panthers to just six points over the last six minutes of the game, and half of those points came on a late three-pointer when the game was already out of reach. Caverly led the way for the Mules with seven fourth quarter points, including a perfect five-for-five at the stripe, while Haley Driscoll ’17 put up six in the game’s final quarter.
Despite the victory, it was an odd game for Colby. The NESCAC’s regular season assist leader, Caverly, went without an assist the whole game. Part of Middlebury’s strategy was to stop Caverly’s play-making abilities, but she countered with calculated drives to the rim instead. The Mules were also out-rebounded 43-31 in the game. Typically, that kind of dominance on the boards would have led to a victory for the home team, but Colby was able to overcome the deficit by playing great help defense and playing a full 20-minute second half according to Davis.
This Saturday, Colby is scheduled to face the number one team in the nation, Amherst, in another road match. The Mules lost 69-43 to the Purple and White earlier this season in Waterville. The team is trying to build off of their recent winning spell and carry it into Saturday’s game. Caverly believes the team’s younger players have grown a lot since the teams’ first meeting and that Colby’s confidence can help them hand Amherst their first loss of the season. The challenge is there. It’s now up to the Mules to conquer it.