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Sophomore forward Brittany Gray pushes past a defender. Last Thursday, Gray led the Chargers’ offense and tied her career-high scoring 14 points. (Photo: Matt Kendrick / Hillsdale Collegian)

For a few shining moments in the first quarter of Saturday’s women’s basketball game between Hillsdale and Ashland, No. 1 in the nation, the score was tied. Ultimately, the Eagles pulled ahead in the second quarter and ended the game 102-82, the second loss for the Chargers this week, after falling to Findlay on Thursday. 

“We were playing the No. 1 team in the country — which was still undefeated, like the first time — but we did a lot of really nice things against them,” head coach Todd Mitmesser said. 

Hillsdale beat Findlay by 17 points earlier this season and started this game just as confidently, up by 10 at one point and up by 3 going into the second half. Through the fast-paced game, the Chargers moved the ball quickly and ended with 18 assists. Senior guard Morgan Blair had a team high of 4. 

“We really executed our plays and did what we wanted to do on offense pretty well with their defense. We played tough that game…we played hard and pretty much that’s all you can do,” sophomore forward Makenna Ott said. 

The Oilers, however, outrebounded Hillsdale by 15. In contrast, Hillsdale snagged 9 more rebounds in the first meeting. The Chargers also struggled with shooting in the fourth quarter, hitting only 21 percent from the field and 20 percent from behind the arc for eight total points. They made only 1-4 free throws in the game. 

Sophomore forward Brittany Gray tied her career-high with 14 points, followed by Ott with 13 and junior guard Maddy Reed with 9. 

“It’s a team we thought we could beat, but we didn’t shoot the ball as well as we needed to and they knocked down a few 3’s that really hurt us,” Mitmesser said. “We also got into a little foul trouble, and that slows us down offensively quite a bit.” 

Mitmesser cited Dittmer’s absence in the game after fouling out as particularly challenging. 

Heading into the Ashland game two days later, the Chargers were enthusiastic. 

“It’s always exciting to be able to play the No. 1 team in the country, twice. For them to be in your conference just shows how competitive it is,” Ott said. “They’re great, but they’re also a beatable team. When you look at their scores, they just score an absurd amount of points.”

The starters began the game with energy, tying Ashland twice in the first quarter. In the last two minutes, however, Ashland pulled ahead to lead by 8 points, and in the second quarter they outscored the Chargers by 12 to take a decisive lead. 

“We changed up our defense a little from the first time we played them. We really tried to prevent the post players from scoring and we tried to guard a couple of their guards differently so they would take different shots,” junior center Allie Dittmer said.  “We just wanted to run the ball because they’re not as used to that and we wanted to wear them so they didn’t hit as many of their shots.” 

The Chargers matched the Eagles’ scoring the entire second half, but could not overcome the twenty-point deficit at the half. Their 82 points were the most allowed by Ashland in any GLIAC game this season, and the second most of any team. With a deep bench, aggressive defense, and strong field goal percentage (48 percent), Ashland sealed their 24th consecutive victory. 

Sophomore guard Allie Dewire and Dittmer, leading the team in scoring through the season, scored 20 and 14 points respectively. Freshman center Julia Wacker, junior forward Jessica De Gree, and Dittmer each got 7 rebounds — half of the overall Charger rebounds. 

“We made the best team in the country make some adjustments, they had to take off their press because it wasn’t working and change the way they were defending us because it wasn’t working,” Mitmesser said. “It’s just a tough matchup for us because they’ve got so many talented and skilled players and they’re coached very well. There’s a reason they’re No. 1.” 

This week, the Chargers battle Walsh and Tiffin on the road. Earlier this season, they lost to Walsh by 8 and beat Tiffin by 18. 

“They’re really big games for us because we really need to win in order to make the GLIAC tournament,” Dittmer said. “I think we’re very capable of beating both teams this weekend.”

Mitmesser said the game against Walsh will be difficult, but he’s optimistic that with fewer players hurt than last time, they have a fighting chance. 

Ott added that the Walsh game is particularly important, since Walsh and Hillsdale are Nos. 8 and 9 in the league respectively right now, and only the top eight teams make the tournament.

“Going into Thursday, we’re going to have a lot of fire power and a lot of energy,” Ott said. “The GLIAC is so competitive and pretty much anything can happen, so we have to focus on every game.”