ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ANDREW OTTOSON
The Tabor College women’s basketball team, ranked 14th in the nation coming into this week, won its final regular-season games.
By defeating seventh-ranked Sterling, the Bluejays may improve their national ranking enough to be awarded an at-large berth in the national tournament.
But Tabor can still assure itself an invitation by winning the conference tournament this week.
“We are determined to bring a conference tournament championship to Tabor College,” coach Rusty Allen said.
“We have really come together on both ends of the court. We are executing well on offense and playing hard and smart on defense. Our rebounding is solid.”
Bethany-On the last night of the regular season, Tabor honored its seniors in a pre-game ceremony before the Bluejays blasted the Swedes 90-77.
Behind a fast start from guards Kirsten Watson and Stacie Herman, the Bluejays led by as many as 16 points in the first half.
Leading 8-7 after 5:17, Jenny Gaskell went to the foul line to shoot two free throws.
Emily Vogts had nicked her right elbow on the play and the Tabor training staff tended to it quickly in a bid to keep her in the game. But Vogts was forced to the bench when a referee noticed a drop of blood on her jersey.
Gaskell made the first free throw despite the delay, but the second did not fall.
Vogts emerged from the locker room moments later sporting a new jersey with a new number.
Wearing Chelsea Malone’s No. 12, Vogts reentered the game, stole the ball at half court and ran away with a breakaway layup for an 11-7 Bluejay lead.
Andrea Robinson collected three assists during the 10-2 run as Tabor added to its lead over the next 3:02.
The first came as Robinson swung an offensive rebound to Kirsten Watson, who buried a 3-pointer. Vogts then scored a layup set up by a pass from Donya Anderson.
Moments later, Herman finished a tic-tac-toe passing play that covered the length of the court in a flash. Anderson got the play started with a rebound and a long outlet pass to Robinson, who zipped the ball to Herman for a layup.
On Tabor’s next possession, Anderson pushed Bethany’s deficit into double-digits with a three-point play at 10:57.
Watson gave the Bluejays their biggest lead of the period when she scored her third 3-pointer for a 36-20 lead with 6:20 to go.
Bethany rallied with a 15-2 run in the final 6:04, including a four-point play as Hope Stieben shot a 3-pointer and drew a foul with 20 seconds left.
But the final basket of the period went to Tabor. Anderson stole the ball and got it to Herman, who laid it in as the buzzer sounded for a 38-35 lead.
The second half began with a 6-0 run by the Bluejays, and Tabor opened up an 49-39 lead on a layup by Nicole Ellis.
Bethany cut the margin to 49-42 on a 3-pointer two possessions later, but Vogts answered with consecutive scores, both on assists from Robinson. The points were part of a 12-3 run that spanned 2:05 and gave the Bluejays a 61-45 lead.
Tabor led by 16 points twice more during the half: Herman drilled a 3-pointer at 10:36 for a 66-50 lead, and Erin Runge scored a layup at 8:38 to make it 70-54.
For the game, Herman scored 20 points, followed by Anderson (18) and Watson (13). Vogts scored 20 points and pulled down 14 rebounds.
Sterling-Led by Stacie Herman and Emily Vogts, who each scored seven points in the first half, the Bluejays flew out to a 13-point lead against the nationally ranked Warriors and finished with a 62-54 win.
In the first half, Tabor stymied prolific scorer K.C. Bassett and limited the Warriors to 6-of-30 shooting (20 percent).
Herman set the tone in the early going when she stole the ball from Bassett and located Kirsten Watson for an open look at 3-point range. Watson made her first attempt of the night, and then buried another 3-pointer 53 seconds later and Tabor led 12-3.
Tabor’s hot start mushroomed despite some early foul trouble. Vogts went to the bench with her second personal at 11:56.
Erin Runge came in for Vogts, then scored a 2-pointer that gave Tabor its first double-digit lead, 19-9. Jenny Gaskell made it 21-11 with 10:20 to go. Gaskell posted two more 2-pointers in the period. The last one made the halftime differential 38-25.
The sense hanging in the air during halftime was that the Warriors would try to rally in front of their home crowd, and Sterling did put together a late run.
Trailing by 16 points after Herman drained a 2-point shot with 7:05 to go, Sterling cut the lead to 58-50 when Alicia Collett hit two foul shots.
Herman and Vogts blocked back-to-back shots on Sterling’s next possession, but the Warriors collected three offensive rebounds before scoring the 3-pointer that made it a four-point game, 58-54.
Tabor’s next possession consumed an entire shot clock and seemed certain to end with no points when Herman’s baseline floater fell off the front of the rim.
But Vogts was there for the putback that turned into a traditional three-point play as she drew a foul in the process.
After Vogts buried the free throw making it 61-54, Donya Anderson swatted away a 2-point shot attempt. Herman tracked the ball into the corner, but was whistled for traveling after she collected the loose ball.
A lesser player and team may have been rattled by the misstep, but Herman and the Bluejays tenaciously forced two awkward shots in the final 32 seconds.
Runge rebounded the second miss, was fouled for free throws with 23 second to go and scored Tabor’s final point.
Anderson and Runge led a dominant effort on the boards with 12 and 11 rebounds, respectively.
Vogts was the only Bluejay with a double-digit point total, finishing with 16.
Coming-With the regular-season schedule complete, the KCAC post-season tournament kicked off Monday night with the play-in round of games.
Tabor’s first game will be at 7 p.m. Thursday against McPherson in Hillsboro.
Ottawa will meet the winner of the play-in game between Kansas Wesleyan and Saint Mary.
Tabor would meet the winner of that game in the semi-final round to be played at 7 p.m. Saturday in the gym of the higher-seeded team.
The championship game will be played Tuesday, Feb. 27, in the gym of the highest-seeded team that advances.
Seedings are determined by the final conference standings: Sterling, Ottawa, Tabor, Southwestern, Friends, McPherson, Kansas-Wesleyan, Bethel, Bethany and Saint Mary.