Tom Archdeacon: WSU women can’t kick the Green Bay jinx

Wright State’s Chelsea Welch drives into the lane against Green Bay on Feb. 24, 2017 at the Nutter Center. Tim Zechar/Contributed
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Wright State’s Chelsea Welch drives into the lane against Green Bay on Feb. 24, 2017 at the Nutter Center. Tim Zechar/Contributed

Well, that was a kick in the chest.

Literally.

The Wright State women — who had had a magical season to this point, playing better than anyone imagined they would when the season began and setting program records in the process — looked as if they finally were going to out-scrap Green Bay, a program that has all but owned them since the two schools first started playing in 1980.

With a victory over the Phoenix on Friday evening at the Nutter Center, the 22-6 Raiders would win their first regular-season Horizon League title in program history and snap a 12-year streak during which Green Bay has swept the two-game regular-season series.

Worse yet, the Phoenix had a 58-4 record all-time against WSU.

But Wright State led most of the game and pulled off what seemed like it would be the signature play of the night with 2:31 left when guard Emily Vogelpohl dove head first after a loose ball near mid-court, out-clawed a flailing Phoenix player for possession and somehow flicked a pass ahead to a streaking Symone Simmons, who completed the improbable fastbreak by snaking a layup around a defender.

That put Wright State up 50-48, and when Green Bay missed its ensuing two field-goal attempts, it seemed as if the jinx was about to end.

But that hardscrabble hustle play was nothing but a mirage.

The play that would really define this night had happened in the first quarter when Simmons and Green Bay’s 6-foot-3 Lexi Weitzer scrapped for a rebound that sent both tumbling to the court.

“I went down first,” Simmons said afterward. “Then she came down and when she tried to get back up, she kicked me in the chest … hard.”

Whether it was due to the forcefulness of the blow or the questionable way it occurred, the officials stopped play and went to the courtside replay monitor to see if the act had been intentional. They finally ruled it was not.

“Intentional? Probably not,” said Wright State coach Katrina Merriweather. “Unfortunate? Absolutely.”

Lexi Smith, Simmons’ sidekick inside for the Raiders, had no idea either:

“I do know that girl wasn’t very happy right then, but other than that, I don’t know.”

Simmons said no words were exchanged and while she admitted the kick hurt, she said it also fired her up. She would finish with 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.

Unfortunately that fast-break score of hers with 2:31 left proved to be WSU’s last field goal.

With the Raiders turning the ball over three times after that, including twice on inbounds plays, and also missing their only two field-goal attempts, Green Bay closed with a 10-1 run and won 58-51.

It was the second time the Phoenix had beaten WSU this season, On Dec. 31, Green Bay won at home by 21.

The Wright State players were stunned as they walked off the court. And as a final insult, the Green Bay players ran to center court and celebrated before turning and waving to the crowd and the small knot of their cheering fans.

“It hurt for sure, seeing them celebrate on our home court,” Vogelpohl said.

As for why they collapsed in the final minutes, none of the Raiders had an exact answer.

Certainly Green Bay (23-5) is a good team, but WSU submarined its own effort with costly miscues in the final minute.

You could point to fatigue — Chelsea Welch played all 40 minutes, Smith played 39, Vogelpohl and Simmons 38 each and the other starter, Mackenzie Taylor, 34 — but as Smith said:

“It’s pretty far in the season. We’ve conditioned our bodies to play that long.”

Whether it was concentration issues or nerves, Merriweather — who saw her team win a program-record 13 straight Division I games this season — said she stressed two things with her team:

“The team returned one starter from last year and was picked in the preseason to finish fifth. Based on what we had coming back I picked us to finish seventh. So I’m very proud of them.

“However, we’ve played a lot of games and we are better than we showed the last four minutes.”

The Raiders can still win a share of the Horizon League title if they defeat Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Senior Night at the Nutter Center on Sunday.

Merriweather said a victory against the Panthers would also be a great way to send out lone senior Antania Hayes and get the team back on track.

She’s talking about the upcoming Horizon League tournament and perhaps another meeting with Green Bay

“At the end of the day they can win 20 titles,” Welch said. “They’re going to have to beat us in the tournament and it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season.

“They’re going to have to beat us there if they want to make it to the NCAA Tournament. And that’s honestly what really counts now.”

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