Senior guard Claire Sterling (West Jefferson) scored 15 of her game-high 25 points during the second half and helped thwart a pair of Bluffton comebacks during the final minutes as the Ohio Wesleyan women’s basketball team recorded a 68-63 non-conference win on Tuesday at Branch Rickey Arena.
Sterling buried a 3-pointer on the opening possession of the game, and sophomore post Cierra Joiner (Centerburg) followed with a lay-in. Joiner and Sterling added hoops and sophomore guard Molly Delaney (Delaware/Olentangy) drove for a lay-in as the Bishops raced to an 11-2 lead.
The Beavers scored the next 7 points, getting 2 baskets and 2 free throws from Nora Hemminger, to pull within 11-9, but back-to-back 3-pointers from sophomore guard Leah Maniaci (Marion/Pleasant) helped Ohio Wesleyan push the lead back to 19-13 late in the first quarter.
Bluffton again reeled off 7 consecutive points, this time with Brianna Gillig opening the second quarter with a pair of free throws and a lay-in that gave the visitors their only lead of the night at 20-19.
Sterling answered with a 3-pointer to give the lead back to the Bishops, then Maniaci chipped in with a lay-in and a 3-pointer during a 7-0 burst that put Ohio Wesleyan up, 31-23, midway through the second quarter.
Ohio Wesleyan led, 33-23, after sophomore point guard Erica Sardinha (Centerburg) broke free for a lay-in with 2:14 left in the half, but Bluffton stormed back as Hemminger and T.J. Mills each scored twice to bring the Beavers within 33-31 with :28 to play. The half would end with the Bishops holding on to that lead, but Gillig opened the second half with a lay-in that tied the score.
Senior guard Nicole Popovich (Rocky River) scored off a Delaney feed and Sterling followed with a steal and lay-in to kick off an 8-0 run that put the Bishops ahead to stay. Maniaci capped the run with a lay-in that made it 41-33 midway through the third quarter, and Ohio Wesleyan would take its biggest lead of the game when junior post Julia Kopp (Pickerington/North) split a pair of free throws that made it 57-46 with 6:33 remaining in regulation time.
Trailing, 59-49. the Beavers scored the next 9 points, with Mills driving for a lay-in, then stealing the ball and feeding Gillig for a lay-in. A Sammy Shardo 3-pointer and a Kylie Brock steal and lay-in narrowed the margin to 59-58 with 3:29 left.
The Ohio Wesleyan defense then held Bluffton to a single field goal attempt during the next 2 minutes, extending possessions with a pair of offensive rebounds and forcing a pair of Bluffton turnovers. Meanwhile, Sterling scored on a putback and Delaney sank a free throw and drove for a lay-in to stretch the lead to 64-58 with 1:43 remaining.
Bluffton rallied once more, closing to within 65-63 on a 3-pointer and a jumper by Mills, but Sterling went for a lay-in with :33 left, then split a pair of free throws for the 68-63 final.
Sterling led the Bishops with 25 points. Maniaci scored 15 points and Popovich added 12 points. Joiner recorded team bests of 11 rebounds and 4 assists.
Gillig led Bluffton with 17 points.
OWU Sports Information contributed to this report.