Underdogs and loving it

More news about: Carthage

By Jason Galleske

Cailee Corcoran, Gabby Chapa and Diana Jacklin celebrate a Carthage NCAA Tournament victory.
Carthage photo by Justin Casterline

Losing recent close games didn’t leave the minds of the Carthage women’s basketball team.

Four of the Lady Reds' losses were by a combined eight points. Three of those losses came in the last month by a combined seven points.

“Those were the worst feelings in the world,” Cathage senior guard Dani Ripkey said.

They weren’t going to lose another close one Saturday.

Down four with 2:09 to play to fourth-ranked DePauw, Carthage rallied to pull a 53-48 upset in Greencastle, Ind., to advance to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years.

“We’ve been tested pretty sternly,” Carthage coach Tim Bernero said. “We didn't feel overwhelmed.”

Carthage will now face Centre in Alliance, Ohio in a sectional semifinal Friday. The winner will face either Mount Union or Illinois Wesleyan, a team that beat Carthage three times this season by a total of six points.

“That was even more of a dagger in the heart,” Ripkey said of losing to the Titans by one in the CCIW tournament championship. “That's rough, especially against them.”

Carthage wasn’t sure it would reach the tournament. Bernero is very familiar with the tournament, as he is part of the NCAA selection committee. He didn’t get a chance to listen to the committee when his team was in the discussion.

“I was just sitting there waiting,” Bernero said. “You have a good chance of getting picked if they call you back in a reasonable amount of time. They called midway through selection. Somewhere in the middle of that we were on the board.”

Bernero liked his teams chances based on Carthage’s strength of schedule and the amount of quality of wins and losses. Carthage defeated Wisconsin Lutheran and UW-River Falls in the non-conference slate, the latter in the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas in December.

Senior Diana Jacklin had 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots in Carthage's first-round win against UW-Whitewater.
Carthage photo by Justin Casterline

“I thought our body of work was good enough,” Bernero said. “We got approved last weekend and we hope to go forward from here.”

Ripkey wasn’t as sure of her team’s postseason fate.

“We thought it was like a 50-50 chance,” “It was really a tossup, we weren't (totally) for sure. That was kind of nervewracking.”

When given the extra opportunity, Carthage was prepared for the challenge.

“Gettting that chance is a breath of fresh air and we needed to refocus and we all wanted to be there,” Ripkey said.

They sure played like it as Carthage dispatched 19th-ranked Whitewater 74-68 behind Diana Jacklin’s 23 points in the NCAA opener. 

The win against the Warhawks gave the Lady Reds the daunting task of facing DePauw on their home floor where it won the last 26 games. Additionally, the Tigers were on a 26-game win streak this season and had also won 76 of its last 77 home contests and 88 of its last 90.

What may have been an advantage for Carthage is DePauw hadn’t been in too many close battles in their first year in the North Coast Athletic Conference. Of the Tigers’ 26 straight wins, only two wins were by less than 10.

“We knew they hadn’t been in a lot of pressure situations,” Ripkey said. “Maybe they wouldn't handle it was well. I think that was on our side. We knew how to handle the situations a lot better.”

DePauw also was an ice-cold 30 percent from the floor – a season low – and Carthage drained 50 percent of its  shots from the floor.

“So many close games against good teams,” Bernero said. “The heartbreak of those and experience of those maybe hardened us down stretch. I thought the kids thought we were fine more than I did.”

Another aspect that may have helped the Lady Reds was that starters Jacklin and Ripkey were also on the Sweet 16 team two years ago.

Bernero said his team will just have to continue to rely on it’s very efficient offense and sturdy defense to give his team a chance to continue down the road.

“We have a nice balance of scorers, two very good three-point shooters, our point guard that’s a sophomore has chance to be really good. We’re not lacking for confidence, came up big when needed her there. We have to make sure to play Centre Friday and go from there. Nothing at this time is easy.”

And now the underdog Lady Reds will try to continue with that moniker, a role they thoroughly enjoy.

“We’re extremely happy that we're at this point,” Ripkey said. “A lot people thought of us as underdogs. I don't think that it's over, think our team is great. We thrive when we're the underdog and we think we love playing big games, people didn’t think we couldn't beat DePauw.

“We love that we're not favored. We just want to go prove to everyone that we can do it. We think we can win when some other people think we can’t.”