Using a precision like offense, and a defense that limited Friends to contested jumpers in the first quarter, the Tabor College Bluejays raced to a commanding 20-10 lead against the top-seeded Falcons, and held on to win the KCAC tournament championship, 73-67, at Hartman Arena Feb. 26.
The win sends the Bluejays back to the NAIA National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.
Morgan Ediger’s 3-point basket just three minutes into the game gave the Bluejays an 8-0 lead as Friends went 0-5 from the field and committed two turnovers during that span.
After a Falcon 2-pointer, the Bluejays went on another run, this time 7-0, to take a 15-2 lead over the top-seed. Tristen Leiszler gave Tabor its biggest lead of the game, 27-10, with a 3-pointer not quite four minutes into the second quarter.
The teams would trade baskets for the next four minutes, but an Amber Bonham field goal at 2:03 would be the last points for Tabor, as the Falcons closed the half with a 6-0 mini-run of their own to close the gap to 10 at intermission.
Ediger and Sammy Jo Peterson hit 3-pointers to open the third quarter, and after a couple of traded baskets, Tabor enjoyed a 13-point lead with about six minutes left in the period.
However, the Falcons defense began to pay dividends as the Falcons trimmed the deficit to six at 4:57. An Ediger three pushed it back to nine, before Friends began chipping away again, eventually getting to within 48-45.
The final quarter was a matter of holding on for the Bluejays. Friends began to ratchet up the pressure, cutting the lead to one, 55-54, with nearly seven minutes left and sending the Falcon fans into a frenzy.
Taylor Deniston, with ice-water in her veins, nailed a shot from beyond the arc, momentarily stemming the tide. Then Leiszler and Ediger hit big shots sandwiched around another Falcon field goal, to give the Jays a seven-point cushion with just over four minutes left.
The Falcons made one last run, trimming Tabor’s lead to 67-64 with 1:04 to play. However, the Falcons would miss four of their last five shots, while Tabor went six-for-six from the free-throw line, providing the Bluejays and their fans with the final six-point victory.
Peterson led four players in double-figure scoring with 15 on 6-for-8 shooting. Deniston added 14 points and led the team with nine rebounds. Ediger, with 13 points, and Leiszler with 11, were the other Bluejays in double-figures.
Kristyn Wedel chipped in with eight caroms.
Coming—The Bluejays will await the tournament selection process to find out their seeding and opponent for the opening round of the national tournament.
Play begins March 7 and runs through March 13.