WINONA LAKE – The Lady Lancers’ basketball team will enter next week’s NCCAA National Championships on a high note after claiming the Midwest Regional championship on Friday.
Grace buried eight 3-pointers and used a key second-half run to handle Cincinnati Christian 77-73 at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.
The Lady Lancers (17-15) will find out their next opponent late Saturday evening when the official bracket and tournament field is announced for the 2015 NCCAA Nationals, held at Grace College from March 18-21.
Grace got off to a sluggish start on Friday, trailing 8-0 within three minutes of the tipoff. CCU jumped out to a 14-4 lead before Grace found its stride.
The Lady Lancers rattled off a 17-3 run over the next five minutes to go on top by four. Allison Kauffman and Gabby Bryant scored six points apiece during Grace’s spurt. Bryant was a major offensive piece for Grace in the half, leading all players with 13 points and a trio of 3-pointers.
Grace still led by four with five minutes to go in the first half, but the Eagles (15-16) rallied to grab a 38-36 lead at the midway break. The Eagles took advantage of Grace’s zone in the opening half, scoring 18 points in the paint. Grace had 11 assists on 15 made field goals before halftime.
CCU started as the better team in the second half as well, pulling ahead by eight at 50-42 with 15:35 remaining. Grace responded with eight unanswered points to pull even at 50-50 on a shot from Micah Pollard.
Grace eventually found the separation it needed thanks to the hot shooting of Kauffman and Kelsey Sule. Kauffman went on a 6-0 run of her own to put Grace up by three. Sule then caught fire, draining back-to-back 3-pointers followed by a runner in the lane as the Lady Lancers claimed a 72-59 advantage with 3:29 remaining. Grace’s game-changing run was an 18-2 charge over a span of 6:46. Kelsie Peterson had four assists to propel Grace in that run.
The Eagles employed a fullcourt press out of desperation in the final minutes and nearly pulled off a comeback. CCU nabbed three steals and managed to cut Grace’s cushion down to three points with less than a minute to play.
Kauffman hit 1-of-2 from the foul line with 28 seconds to play to extend Grace’s lead to four, but the Eagles quickly scored to make the score 75-73 with 15 seconds left. Peterson then iced the regional crown seven seconds later by calmly sinking both free throws for the final four-point margin of victory.
Kauffman tied for scoring honors on the night with 23 points on 11-of-21 shooting while also pulling down eight boards. Bryant finished with 15 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists, and Sule tallied 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc.
Peterson amassed 7 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals, Heather House added six points off the bench, and JoEllen Fickel pulled down seven boards.
As a team Grace had 20 assists to tie a season-high. Grace also outrebounded CCU by six thanks to 13 offensive rebounds. The Lady Lancers’ bench poured in 25 points.