BELLINGHAM — It’s no wonder Vikings women’s basketball coach Carmen Dolfo wastes little time putting Kristin Schramm in games.A player this hot could burn up the bench.Schramm scored 23 points, including 15 in about five minutes during a crucial first-half run, in her usual sixth man role to help Western Washington University defeat Montana State Billings 76-49 on Wednesday, March 2, in a Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament semifinal at Sam Carver Gym. The Vikings, who were ranked No. 11 in the latest national poll, will now host Alaska-Anchorage, a 68-66 winner over Seattle Pacific, in the championship game on Saturday, March 5. “I come off the bench,” said Schramm, who shot 9 for 13 and 4 for 5 from 3-point land. “I guess my role is to try and change the game and try and get everyone going. And that’s what I really look to do with my scrappiness. ... My offense comes when I work hard, I guess.”A little less electric but equally impressive, Corinn Waltrip joined her teammate Schramm in scoring 23 points against the Yellowjackets. But the deadeye shooter did most of her damage from the outside, going 8 for 11 from the field while hitting seven 3-pointers. In all, the two combined to clobber Montana State Billings with four 3-pointers each as the Vikings took a 50-25 halftime lead.“I just have gotten my confidence up and I know my teammates and my coaches have confidence in my shot,” said Waltrip. “They’re telling me to take my shot and I’m open, so.”Waltrip started the game with two straight treys to open the scoring for Western. Soon enough, Schramm was inserted into the game, and with Western up 14-9 about six minutes in, the duo took turns hitting two treys apiece to kick off a 21-4 run that had the Vikings leading 35-13 with nine minutes left in the half.“We were on fire. We couldn’t miss,” Schramm said. “We knew it couldn’t obviously get any better the second half, so we had to work harder defense because offense can always go cold, but you can always rely on defense.”Schramm finished with 18 points at halftime while Waltrip had 14. Both finished with career-highs in the scoring column while senior center Lauren Hefflin tied her rebounding personal best with 14 to go with 12 points, all in the first half, and three blocks. “They just played so well together,” said coach Dolfo. “We had our shooters step up. I think defensively, we played well together and our hope is we can just build up from this for Anchorage on Saturday.”The Vikings will host Alaska-Anchorage during Saturday’s GNAC championship game. With a 26-2 record, including 17-1 in GNAC standings, Western is assured of a spot in the West Regional even if they don’t earn the automatic bid awarded to the league tournament champ. But a GNAC tournament crown to pair with a regular season league crown could give the Vikings, who were ranked No. 2 in the latest regional poll, a chance at hosting it.Western has beaten Alaska-Anchorage twice, but knows it won’t be easy to earn Western’s 26th straight win at home, a streak dating back to last year.“They’re really physical,” Waltrip said of Alaska-Anchorage.Wednesday’s stars were similar to Monday’s. Waltrip had 19 points on 5 for 6 3-pointers while Hefflin scored 18 as the Vikings opened the first-ever GNAC Tournament with a 73-60 win over Simon Fraser.And, yes, Schramm was there coming off the bench. The 5-foot-9 junior scored 10 points in about three minutes to key a 12-2 Western run to end the first half.“She’s playing great right now,” Dolfo said of Schramm. “She’s playing confident and it’s not only her shooting. She scraps on defense and gets offensive boards. So we’re just happy with her stepping up, especially with Amanda Dunbar being sick.”Dunbar, the GNAC Player of the Year who ranks third in career league scoring, was held scoreless on just five shots. On Wednesday, the senior guard again played her way through flu-like symptoms. Again, her teammates responded.Megan Pinske, who joined Dunbar and Hefflin on the All-GNAC first-team, filled up the stat sheet Wednesday with seven points, eight assists and five steals.The Vikings led by as many as 32 in the second half, with Waltrip hitting again from beyond the 3-point arc to put Western up 73-41 with 4:32 to play.The Yellowjackets, who shot just 34 percent from the field, were led by Jenny Heringer’s 11 points while Kayla Ryan added 10. The Vikings defeated Montana State Billings 63-57 on Feb. 22 in Billings. At the time, it was Western’s 19th straight win, a streak that was ended by Seattle Pacific 71-63 two days later.Overall, Wednesday’s was a performance that had the Western coach smiling after the buzzer sounded. Schramm sported a grin, too, knowing full well she’s playing some of her best basketball when it counts the most.“It’s really nice be home and be able to be in our own gym with our fans, but also we won GNAC (league); that was our first goal,” she said. “Now it’s one game at a time.”
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