Bridget Bailey and Gretchen Haehl may not be starters on the DePauw women's basketball team.
But they sure do play like it.
With leading scorer and All-Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year Liz Bondi held to six points, the duo came through for DePauw in the clutch, combining for 34 points, leading the Tigers to a 69-60 victory over Wheaton College Friday at Neal Fieldhouse. DePauw now moves on to face Hope College Saturday in the sectional final of the NCAA Division III Tournament at 7 p.m.
Haehl led the Tigers with 18 points, including three 3-pointers, while Bailey added 16 points and five rebounds down low.
"Both of them are good enough to be starters, but they've handled their roles so well," DePauw Head Coach Kris Huffman said. "And it's exciting when it's time to put them in the game. We needed Gretchen's shooting ability and we needed Bridget's height."
The Tigers had a tall task - literally - in shutting down All-American 6-foot-2 sophomore post player Jill Trenz, who came in averaging 13.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
That's where Bailey stepped in.
The 6-foot-3 Bailey had a constant hand in her face with harassing physical play on the block, holding Trenz to just two points in the first half on 1-of-7 shooting from the field.
"Bailey had a great game," Wheaton Head Coach Beth Baker said. "I think that's one of the biggest players that Jill has had to go against."
However, Trenz broke out in the second half, scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds, as the Thunder rolled back into the game after falling to a 35-25 halftime deficit.
The Tigers went up as many as 12 points early in the second half, before Wheaton managed to come within two points twice in the second half.
When Kathleen Fidelia lobbed a soft pass to Elizabeth Fox for an easy two points, Wheaton cut the Depauw lead to 55-53 with just under six minutes remaining.
And when the Tigers fouled a Wheaton player on a shot attempt, the Thunder had a chance to tie the game with 5:35 remaining.
Momentum appeared to be in their favor.
But after the two shots rimmed out, the Tigers quickly answered.
After two offensive rebounds, Bondi found Hahl on the elbow, where she sunk a 3-pointer that nearly lifted the roof off the Lilly Center.
"I thought their defense was really good," Haehl said. "I was just feeling it."
Wheaton was able to cut the deficit to three points twice within the last four minutes. However, every time the Thunder hit some shots, the Tigers had an answer.
"I tip my hat," Baker said. "They're a good basketball team. They dribble penetrate real well. Part of their game plan is to get to the free throw line, and they did that really well."
Despite being outshot from the field, the Tigers knocked down 21-of-27 free throws in the game, while the Thunder hit just 8-of-14.
"I think we nearly made more than our opponents attempted," Huffman said. "And that's one of our goals going into the season. So it's something we talked about and worked on."
Trenz led Wheaton with 13 points and 14 rebounds, while Fox added 13 points and seven boards to the effort. Brittany Cooper also scored 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field while going 5-of-5 from the free-throw line.
The lone Wheaton senior, Irene Kim, scored eight points in her final game.
With such a young team, the Thunder are optimistic about the future.
After the game, instead of hanging their heads, a surprisingly chipper Baker and Trenz spoke to a room full of reporters about the future.
"It's really exciting," Trenz said. "I feel like we have a lot of potential. We know what it's like know."
The Thunder finished their most successful season in school history with a 25-5 record.
The Tigers had nine players score in the win. Caitlin McGonigal scored seven points, while Suzy Doughty and Bondi added six points each.
Doughty also had a team-high four assists.
DePauw faces a 30-1 Hope team that defeated Washington (Mo.) University earlier in the evening Friday.
Washington is the only team that has beaten the Tigers this season.
Only eight teams remain in a field that started with 63.
DePauw will compete to play in the Final Four for the first time since 2002.
"Everyone's feeling really good," Haehl said. " I can't explain it. It's like something within ourselves. We know we can do it. We don't think there's anyone that can stop us."
DePauw 35 34 -- 69
Wheaton 25 35 -- 60
DPU -- Doughty 1 4-4 6, Lowes 2 1- 26, Houin 2 1-2 5, McGonigal 2 2-2 7, Bondi 3 0-2 6, Pruzin 1 0-0 3, Haehl 4 7-8 18, Haehl 1 0-0 2, Bailey 5 6-7 16. Totals -- FG 21-57, FT 21-27, TP 69.
WC -- Kim 3 0-0 8, Fox 6 1-1 13, Pouns 3 1-2 8, Cooper 4 5-5 13, Trenz 6 1-4 13, Woudenberg 0 0-0 0, Passiales 0 0-2 0, Fidelia 1 0-0 2, Carwell 1 0-0 3, Edgecomb 0 0-0 0. Totals -- FG 24-58, FT 8-14, TP 60.
Halftime -- 35-25. 3pt -- DPU 6 (Haehl 3), WC 4 (Kim 2). Steals -- DPU 8 (Bondi 3, Doughty 3), WC 6 (Copper 3). Rebounds -- DPU 38 (Bondi 8, WC 37 (Trenz 14). Assists -- DPU 13 (Doughty 4), WC 16 (Fox 4). Blocks -- DPU 3 (three players with one each), WC 4 (Trenz 2). Total Fouls -- DPU 13, WC 21. Fouled Out -- None.