VALPARAISO, Ind. – The Lehigh women’s basketball team came up with two big defensive stops in the last minute as Lehigh (3-6) defeated Valparaiso (1-6) 41-39 on Saturday afternoon. Lehigh held Valpo without a field goal for the final 7:44 while nine Mountain Hawks scored. Lehigh was led by senior Emily Gratch’s 10 points and five rebounds while senior Alexa Williams grabbed 13 rebounds, her third straight game with 13 boards.
"It wasn’t a pretty game offensively for either team, but I thought we did a great job defensively and it’s a nice win to get," said head coach Sue Troyan. "To have Gratch in there and have a presence inside definitely helped. It’s a good start for her and nice to have her back."
Lehigh finished the game shooting 32.6 percent from the field including 21 percent from behind the arc while the Mountain Hawks held Valpo to 28 percent from the field and six percent from three. Lehigh outrebounded Valpo 40-36, but the Crusaders had the edge on the offensive glass 13-7. The Mountain Hawks also forced 17 turnovers, but Lehigh committed 27 for the game but only had 11 in the second half. The difference for Lehigh, though, was its depth as the Mountain Hawks outscored the Crusaders 26-2 in bench points.
Lehigh got off to a slow start as the Mountain Hawks trailed 3-0 with 15:30 to go. The Mountain Hawks got on the board with 14:15 left as Williams hit one of two free throws en route to an 8-0 run as the Mountain Hawks hit their first field goal eight minutes into the half as senior Aly Byorick hit a three from the right corner to give Lehigh a 4-3 lead with 12 minutes to go.
Junior Becky Guman then added a layup and Gratch hit a jumper from the top of the key for her first points of the season to put Lehigh up 8-3 with 10:50 left.
Lehigh also stepped up its defensive pressure as it held Valparaiso without a point for almost nine minutes and without a field goal for close to ten minutes but then the Crusaders went on a 8-0 run of their own to even the game at 11-11 with 7:20 to go.
The teams exchanged points as Lehigh trailed 18-15 with 1:30 left but sophomore Hilary Weaver drained a three from the left side to even up the game. Valpo then responded with a basket to take a two-point lead with 46 seconds to go in the half.
Junior Sarah Peace then drove to the lane and converted the old-fashioned three-point play to put Lehigh back on top 21-20 but Valpo scored the final basket of the half as the Mountain Hawks trailed 22-21 at halftime.
Lehigh was 7-fo-21 from the field including 2-for-10 from behind the arc while Valpo was 9-for-27 and 1-for-6 from three. The Mountain Hawks outrebounded the Crusaders 21-15 but the story of the opening 20 minutes was turnovers as the teams combined for 26, 16 coming from Lehigh.
Eight different Mountain Hawks scored in the first half, led by five from Weaver on 2-for-2 from the field. Guman added four points and set a career-high with three steals.
Gratch hit a pair of layups out of the break but Valpo answered each time as Lehigh trailed 29-27 five minutes into the second half.
Williams hit a pair of free throws with 13:25 left to even the game at 29-29.
Valpo then went on a 6-0 run to take a 35-29 lead with 10:30 to go but junior Kelly Peterson ended that run with a three pointer to cut the deficit in half and Pearce added a layup as Lehigh trailed 35-34 with 8:06 left.
Peterson added another three four minutes later to even the score 37-37 with 6:30 to go and Gratch’s layup gave Lehigh the lead 39-37 with 3:18 left. Gratch then added a pair of free throws soon after to put the Mountain Hawks up four.
Valpo hit a pair of free throws to cut Lehigh’s lead to two with 2:40 to go. Clinging to a two-point lead, Lehigh’s defense then came up with a big stop as the Crusaders had the ball with under a minute to go.
After Weaver missed the front end of a one-and-one, Valpo had the ball with nine seconds left but Lehigh held strong on the defensive end for the victory.
Along with Gratch and Williams, Peterson added six points, four rebounds and two blocks and Weaver added five points, three rebounds and three steals. Senior Kelela Blake also picked up her first-career start.
Valpo was led by 12 points from Tabitha Gerardot and eight points and 11 rebounds from Ashley Varner.
The game was the Mountain Hawks’ final non-league road game as Lehigh will return to the court Monday to take on Loyola (Md.) at 7 p.m. in what will be the first of a six-game homestand that will stretch across the next month into the start of Patriot League play.