William Peace picks up pace

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Shawn Shaffer is one of three players averaging between 13.4 points and 13.6 points per game for William Peace.
William Peace athletics photo by Steven Worthy

Certain moments define a season, or at the very least, provide a shot of confidence that gives a team an extra bounce in its step. William Peace, in only in its third year of men’s basketball, and only its second season playing full D-III opponents, had one of those moments Saturday.

Trailing by 16 on the road to Ferrum with less nine minutes to play, the Pacers put together a remarkable rally that led to a 66-64 victory.

Maybe the win doesn’t ultimately lead to a championship in the USA South Athletic Conference, although no one can discount the Pacers yet as they sit just a half game out of first place with seven games left on the schedule.

But one thing is for sure. The Pacers took a big step forward with their come-from-behind win over the Panthers, matching their win total from a year ago. They are 9-9 overall and 5-2 in the league.

“The comeback was huge for us. It gave us a lot of confidence,” senior guard Shawn Shaffer said. “We don’t ever believe we are out of a game. We play well together, we play hard and we are mentally tough.”

Part of that belief no doubt comes from their head coach. Claude Shields kept reminding his team during the game that they were more than capable of getting the job done.

Last February, the Pacers trailed the Panthers by 19 on the road and nearly won. They lost 85-84 on a shot as time expired.

“All through the game I kept bringing up last year,” Shields said. “It was neat seeing them believe in themselves. This team has a quiet confidence, and winning games on the road only makes you better in the long run.”

Shields, a 2010 graduate of North Carolina, was hired in the fall of 2011 to build the program. His basketball background made him a good candidate. He played junior varsity basketball for the Tar Heels and spent one year as an assistant at Guilford College.

His ability to recruit in the heart of basketball country – the school is located in Raleigh, N.C. – has helped speed along the progress of the program.

“We are in a very talent-rich part of the country and can bring in good players,” Shields said. “We’ve been through some tough moments but the players believe in what we are doing and I’ve seen the hard work they have put in. They go hard every day. It’s great seeing them be rewarded with some success.”

Shaffer has played a big part in that success. One of three seniors on the roster, the senior forward is averaging 13.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

Junior guard Nate Strother is clicking for 13.6 points per game and leads the team in 3-pointers with 51. Junior forward Chris Thomas is averaging 13.4 points per outing and has knocked down 26 treys.

The other seniors are guards Bryson Gibson (6.7 points per game, 21 3-pointers) and Michael Wolf (5.1 points, 55 assists).

Shaffer began his college career at Lenoir-Rhyne but he said it wasn’t the right fit for him. William Peace provided him a chance to thrive.

“It gave me a chance to be myself and really come into my own as a player,” Shaffer said. “I’ve tried to be more of a leader this year and I feel like I’ve improved my outside shot and become tougher mentally.”

William Peace won five games, some of them against community colleges, during the 2012-13 season and went 9-16 last year, including a 3-11 mark in its first season in the USA South Athletic Conference.

The Pacers are hoping to have a winning season, but regardless of how the rest of the year plays out, Shaffer is thankful he has had an opportunity to help push the program forward.

“It’s exciting,” Shaffer said. “We’ve helped set the standard for future teams here and we want to continue to raise the bar before the year is over. Hopefully we can finish strong and go out on a good note.”

Title hopes still alive

The Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association title race is heating up, and after Hope held off Trine 73-63 in overtime on Saturday, there is now a three-way tie for first place in the league.

Hope joins Trine and Calvin atop the standings at 6-2 after an impressive 27-point career-high performance by Harrison Blackledge.  

Blackledge’s effort in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,397 was crucial to Hope’s success, especially in OT when he scored nine points. The 27 points is the eighth-most points scored by a player at the DeVos Fieldhouse.

Hope has won six consecutive games, pushing its record to 13-6 overall, and Blackledge has been instrumental to the success. He is averaging 12.0 points per game.

Feeling the sting

Opponents haven’t had much luck against Randolph-Macon.

The Yellow Jackets’ last 14 opponents have felt the sting of defeat, including Lynchburg, which fell 72-68 to Randolph-Macon on Saturday in Old Dominion Athletic Conference action.

Marcus Badger played a key role, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the second half as the Yellow Jackets improved to 17-2 overall and 10-0 in the conference.

Badger, who drilled one 3-pointer and was 5-of-5 from the free-throw line, did more than just put points on the scoreboard. He also dished out six assist and racked up four steals for a Yellow Jackets team that is in first place in the league.

Badger has scored 16 points in back-to-back games, leading the team in scoring both times, and he is averaging 8.9 ppg. He has also tallied 90 assists and 29 steals.

Tough Tigers

Wittenberg was unfazed by a 17-point second-half deficit against Denison Saturday. The Tigers toughened up and put together an incredible comeback in a 41-39 win over the Big Red.

Wittenberg trailed 36-19 with nine minutes left but capitalized on great defense and big shots to win their fourth consecutive game and sweep the season series against Denison.

Katelyn Haralamos drilled a game-winning jumper with 15 seconds and the Tigers improved to 15-5 overall and 7-3 in the conference.

Haralamos scored 10 points and is the second-leading scorer for the Tigers this season, averaging 13.7 points per outing. She leads the team in 3-pointers with 37.

Wittenberg is averaging 67.4 points  and allowing only 56.8. The Tigers have held their last three opponents to under 60 points.

Bison continue to shine

Bethany is one of the hottest teams in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. The Bison picked up its latest win on Saturday, edging Thiel 61-59 behind two clutch free throws and a last-second steal by Delonte’ Joyce.

Bethany, once struggling with a 6-8 record, has won six consecutive games. The Bison is 12-8 overall and 7-4 in the PAC.

Joyce poured in 20 points, marking the fifth time in the last six games that he has scored at least 20 in a game. He was 7-of-8 from the line and grabbed eight rebounds. Joyce is averaging 25.6 points per game during the win streak. On the season, he is averaging 18.4.

In addition to the great effort by Joyce, Darrian Bruster stepped up as he scored seven points to go along with nine rebounds, three steals and five blocks. The block total is the second-most in a game in school history. Bruster is averaging 8.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

Bouncing back

Southwestern won its third consecutive game Saturday, knocking off Austin 65-51, and the win keeps it right in the mix for a Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference title.

The Pirates are only 9-11 overall but are tied with Schreiner for second place in the league with a 7-2 record.

Annie Bourne played a big part in the win and moved closer to a couple of milestones. She scored 10 points, putting her just 33 away from 1,000 for her career, and grabbed 16 rebounds, leaving her 24 shy of the school record.

Bourne is averaging 11.6 points and 11.9 rebounds per game for Southwestern, which has made strides since winning only once in its first seven games.

Leading scorer Jordan Owens lit up the scoreboard for 17 points. She is averaging 17.6 points for the Pirates, who are two wins away from clinching a berth to the SCAC tournament.

Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Findlay, Ohio. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending the last 10 at The Courier in Findlay. The highlight of his career was covering the University of Findlay men's basketball team's perfect 36-0 run to an NCAA Division II national championship in 2009. During his career, has covered all three levels of the NCAA tourney and has done freelance work for newspapers and web sites. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois and lives in Ottawa with his wife and daughter.