Tabor limited the Moundbuilders, who were previously unbeaten in KCAC play, to 37.5 percent shooting from the field (18-48) in the game. Tabor, meanwhile, shot a sizzling 54.4 percent from the field (31-57), including 38.5 percent from three (10-26).
?We just came out and played really well from the start, and that?s pretty rare to be able to do that,? coach Shawn Reed said. ?To do it in this setting and this stage is just awesome. I?m just really proud of our team.?
Southwestern opened with a three-pointer, but Mallory Zuercher made a tying three 18 seconds later. The Moundbuilders built a 7-5 lead before Janelle Rust fired off back to back threes to ignite a 15-0 Bluejay run for a 20-7 Tabor lead at 12:25.
After Southwestern drew within 24-15 with a three-pointer, Rust and Zuercher drained back-to-back threes. Kaleigh Troxell added to the effort with back-to-back baskets to extend the lead to 34-17. Lewis grabbed a steal and scored at 3:18, and Troxell followed with two scores of her own, including a three-point play that pushed Tabor?s margin to 41-19 with 2:03 left in the half. The Moundbuilders scored the half?s final basket for a 41-21 score at intermission.
The hot Bluejay shooting continued in the second half with a 12-4 Tabor run in the first 4:48 for a 53-25 Tabor advantage after Tena Loewen scored in the paint. After Paust and Lewis combined for seven of eight made free throws, Tabor led, 62-32, with 10:47 to play.
The closest Southwestern drew after that was 66-41 with 8:45 to go, but Tabor answered with a 16-4 run. Reed cleared his bench with about three minutes to go, and Tabor cruised to the 85-51 victory.
Lewis scored 20 points, Dean added 16 and Rust 13.
Tabor 56, Friends 53
Victory was sweet when the third-seeded Bluejays defeated the No. 2 Falcons.
The win not only gave Tabor an opportunity to play in the championship game, it also broke a seven-game losing streak against the Falcons dating back to the 2010-11 season.
?It?s just a huge win for our team, not only this season, but really our program because we haven?t beat them in the three years that I?ve been at Tabor,? coach Shawn Reed said. ?They?re a very good team. They play great defense.
?When you play them, it?s a battle of wills. I think when we?ve played them in the past, we?ve played with doubt in our mind. Tonight, we just said we?re not going to do that.?
That said, the Falcons burst to an 11-0 lead before Mallory Zuercher made a three-pointer for Tabor at the 15:44 mark. Kayla Wilgers drained a three, Hannah Paust added a free throw, then Janelle Rust sank a three and followed with two free throws to narrow the gap to 16-12.
Zuercher scored a three to ignite a 7-0 run fed by baskets by Hannah Paust and Tena Loewen. Tabor was within 25-24. It was a back-and-forth battle the rest of the half, with Friends clinging to a 29-26 lead at intermission.
The Falcons increased the lead to 33-26 before Janelle Rust hit back-to-back threes to bring Tabor within 33-32. Another Rust three with 14:56 left, and a three-point play by Nikki Lewis gave Tabor its first lead at 38-37.
Friends reclaimed the lead with a basket, but Lewis scored four points to push the lead back in Tabor?s favor. The Falcons answered with five points before Rust put Tabor in front 45-44 with a three.
With 3:21 left, the Falcons made a three-pointer to take a 49-47 lead. Kaleigh Troxell answered with a three 18 seconds later, but a Falcon basket and free throw put Friends up 52-50.
Rust then drained a three for a 53-52 Tabor lead with 1:20 to go. Two Falcon shots missed the mark before Tabor was called for a foul. Friends made one of two free throws, tying the game at 53 with 37.8 seconds left.
Tabor took a timeout, but missed a shot as the shot-clock expired. Lewis grabbed the rebound, and Rust made her seventh three-pointer of the night with 3.7 seconds left. After a Friends timeout, Rust stole a Falcon pass to seal the win.
Rust scored a game-high 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 7-of-11 from three-point range.
?Our seniors made some big plays,? Reed said. ?I know Nikki only had seven points, but to get that rebound at the end?the smallest player on the court.
?Janelle just had a fantastic night. She?s struggled in some games this year, but she atoned for any of those games and more with that performance tonight. That three she hit at the end was unbelievable. I?ll never forget that.?
Reed also praised the effort of his bench, whom he called upon in the first half when Tonisha Dean?s playing time was limited because of illness and Lewis left the game temporarily after taking a hard hit.
?Kaleigh Troxell always plays well off the bench,? Reed said. ?She hit a huge three late in the game.
?Amber Tamez, Kayla Wilgers, Hannah Paust?three kids that honestly have not played a ton?came in and played fantastic.?
Tabor 86, Sterling 69
An important element in Wednesday?s win was the way the Bluejays started the game.
?We actually came out and got out to a good start right off the tip,? coach Shawn Reed said. ?That?s something we?ve been talking about and working on. We did that, so I was very pleased with that.?
Hot three-point shooting helped, too. The Bluejays made 13 of 28 shots from beyond the arc (46.4 percent).
?We shot unbelievably well from the three-point line,? Reed said. ?We made seven more threes (than Sterling), and that was the difference in the game.?
The Bluejays also limited turnovers, committing eight to Sterling?s 17.
With the score tied 11-11 five minutes into the game, Tabor went on a 16-0 run that included three-point baskets by Tonisha Dean, Janelle Rust and Kaleigh Troxell for a 27-11 lead.
Hannah Paust gave the Bluejays their largest lead of the half, 30-13, with a three-pointer, but Sterling closed the gap to 33-23. Nikki Lewis scored the rest of Tabor?s first-half points for a 40-32 margin.
Sterling cut the deficit to 42-40 before Lewis and Dean hit back-to-back threes.
With a 48-44 Tabor lead, Lewis drained a three, then Dean scored a layup off a steal. When Troxell hit a three, Tabor?s lead was back to double-digits at 56-46.
The Warriors drew within 56-51, but two free throws by Erin Maxwell and a Troxell three pushed the lead to 61-51. Lewis later sandwiched a Troxell basket with two scores to extend the margin to 69-55.
Sterling closed the gap to 74-67 with 3:04 to play, but a 12-2 Tabor run in the final minutes put the game away.
Lewis?who has been named KCAC Player of the Year?scored a game-high 24 points. She completed a double-double with 10 assists.
?Nikki played like the player of the year tonight,? Reed said. ?She was unstoppable.?
Dean scored 15 points, and Rust and Troxell each added 13. As a team, Tabor shot 42.6 percent from the field (26-61).
Coming?With the win, Tabor will advance to the NAIA National Cham?pionship Tournament. More information will be posted at hillsborofreepress.com as it becomes available.