ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The streak is over.
The fourth-ranked Tabor College women lost Monday for the first time since Nov. 22 in the finals of the KCAC post-season tournament, falling to Ottawa 69-57.
“We played really hard but we ran up against a team that has a lot of talent and put it together tonight,” coach Rusty Allen said. “We missed quite a few shots we’d usually make and they really shot the ball well from the 3-point line, a lot of them contested. I just tip my hat to them. They have a nice team and they put together a nice game.”
Ottawa came out firing in the first half and built a 10-point lead of 28-18 with 4:50 left in the half.
But Tabor battled back to cut the margin to just six points at 33-28 by halftime.
The Bluejays took their first lead of the game at 40-39 with 13:53 left in the second half.
The game then turned into a back-and-forth affair over the next six minutes as Tabor built its largest lead of the game 51-48 with 6:44 to play. But it turned all Braves from that point.
“We had a lot of chances to kind of take control of the game but we just couldn’t get it done,” Allen said. “Early in that time frame it was missed shots and later it was a couple of turnovers.
“Once they got the lead, we never got it back.”
The result was a 21-6 run over the final six minutes as Ottawa converted its free throws and Tabor was reduced to attempting 3-point field goals that didn’t find their mark.
Jill Hein led Tabor with 13 points and Katie Tedder added 11. The Bluejays connected on 24 of 59 shots from the field (41 percent) but just three of 11 from the 3-point line.
Hallie Boyce led Ottawa with 21 points as the Braves shot 41 percent from the field, but hurt the Bluejays from the 3-point line hitting eight of 18 (44 percent).
With the loss, Tabor’s 24-game winning streak ended as the Bluejays fell to 27-4 for the season while Ottawa improved to 22-9.
“Our team is so fired up and their goal has been to make the final four of the national tournament since last spring,” Allen said. “I told them everything goes through God’s hands and he doesn’t promise that everything is going to go good according to our definition of good.
“Who knows what this loss means?” he asked. “Last year’s loss to Bethany absolutely did us some good.”
Both teams will advance to Sioux City, Iowa, for the NAIA national tournament March 8-14.
Semifinals-Beating a conference rival three times in one season is always a daunting task, especially if it’s a team that makes an annual trek to the national tournament.
Fourth-ranked Tabor did just that Saturday by defeating Sterling College 67-58 in the semifinals of the KCAC post-season tournament.
“This is the first time we’re in the conference tournament finals and we’re excited about that,” coach Rusty Allen said. “That was a goal of our team this year and our players worked really hard to achieve that goal.”
Entering the game with a survivalist mentality, the Warriors knew their only chance of continuing their season was to win the tournament.
Early in the game, it appeared Sterling might accomplish that. Behind the sharp shooting of K.C. Bassett, Sterling broke open the game with seven straight points to jump on top of the hometown Bluejays 26-13 with 8:06 left in the first half.
“We were letting them shoot it wide open, we weren’t attacking the basket and we weren’t moving the ball up court quickly-there were a lot of little things that were adding up to we’re about to get buried here,” Allen said. “But from that point on, our team really played well.”
Sparked by Jill Hein’s typical kamikaze defense, Tabor stormed back. Still trailing 33-23 with 2:47 left in the half, Tabor scored the final seven points courtesy of a pair of Donya Anderson free throws, a Hein steal and 3-point basket and a Katie Tedder lay-in off a beautiful assist from Staci Herman to slice the halftime deficit to 33-30.
With the Warriors in their crosshair, Tabor focused on getting the ball to Hein, unquestionably the most difficult one-on-one matchup in the KCAC.
The strategy worked.
“Jill had a fantastic game, especially early in the second half,” Allen said. “They were guarding her with people that just could not guard her and on defense, Jill played with tremendous heart.”
Continuing to pound the ball inside, Tabor gradually built a double-digit lead with its largest spread being 63-51 with 2:04 to go.
When the final horn sounded, Tabor claimed its 24th consecutive victory to move its record to 27-3. Sterling ended its season at 19-10.
Anderson led Tabor with 20 points, but Herman added 18 and Hein 11 as the Bluejays hit 24 of 48 (50 percent) shots from the field and 17 of 28 free throws.
Bassett led Sterling with 17, but scored only three second-half points as the Warriors shot 20-for-51 from the field (39 percent).
Tabor won the battle of the boards, 34-27, led by Katie Tedder’s nine rebounds.
“And that’s on a torn ACL, which has dislocated one time already during this season against Sterling (Jan. 26),” Allen said. “She only started playing again two games ago and had nine boards and six rebounds. I’m not sure without her we’d get it done tonight.”
Quarterfinals-Tabor soundly defeated McPherson College, 62-46, in the first round of tournament played on Wednesday.
As usual, the Bluejays’ defense sparked the victory, holding the Bulldogs to 32 percent shooting from the field (18-57).
Playing without the services of Emily Vogts, Erica Dechant and Sarah Lyons, who missed the contest because of disciplinary action, Tabor went after the Bulldogs early and often.
“We had some adversity tonight and I thought the players really rallied,” coach Rusty Allen said. “Our players supported each other and went out and had fun.”
That fun led to a 17-4 lead barely seven minutes into the contest. Behind Tabor’s “3-H” attack-Herman, Hein and Hemmert-the Bluejays largest lead of the half came at the 4:49 mark when Donya Anderson added a hoop to stake Tabor to a 25-8 lead.
Tabor settled for a 31-16 halftime lead behind seven first-half points from Nicole Ellis, who started in Vogts’ place.
The game only got worse for the Bulldogs early in the second stanza when Tabor turned up the heat defensively with an aggressive full-court pressure.
The predictable result was a flurry of Bulldog turnovers that transformed Tabor’s comfortable 15-point lead to a dominant 28-point advantage, 54-26, which prompted Allen to call off the dogs.
“We definitely changed the tempo of the game with our press,” Allen said. “We probably could have kept it on for a while longer, but look at the scoreboard. That doesn’t make any sense.”
Although McPherson scored 20 of the game’s final 28 points, thanks in part to less than stellar officiating down the stretch, Tabor coasted to a 62-46 win.
“We got sloppy in the last 10 minutes and quit playing defense and lost our concentration on offense,” Allen said. “But I thought we probably got a little fatigued.”
Ellis led Tabor with 13 points while Herman added 12 and Hein and Hemmert both 10. Tabor hit 22 of 61 shots from the field (36 percent) but a solid 15-for-21 (72 percent) from the free-throw line.
April Woody led McPherson with 12 points as the Bulldogs hit six of only nine free throws.
After 13 turnovers in the first hal, Tabor committed only four in the second half. McPherson committed 19 for the game.
McPherson closed its season at 7-20.
Hemmert KCAC Player-of-the-Year
Five members of the fourth-ranked Tabor College women’s basketball team received all-conference notice this week.
Erica Hemmert, a WaKeeney native, was named the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Player-of-the-Year. Hemmert also was a unanimous first-team repeat selection and a selection on the All-Defensive team.
Joining Hemmert on the first team were a pair of repeat selections in junior forward Donya Anderson of Ardmore, Okla., and sophomore guard Stacie Herman of Derby.
Picked for the second team were Hillsboro senior forward Jill Hein and Newton junior center Emily Vogts. Hein was picked for the All-Defensive team, too.
Tabor’s Rusty Allen was named Co-Coach-of-the-Year along with Bethany’s Trent May.